miocast with Erin Skimson

“Safety Comes First”- An Interview with Oregon’s Chief Traffic Engineer

Recently, Miovision sat down with Dennis Mitchell, Chief Traffic Engineer with Oregon’s Department of Transportation. Dennis’ experience with ITS Technology gives him a unique perspective on the future of transportation. In this interview, we ask Dennis four key questions:

1) What does transportation look like to you in 10 years?
2) What is it that you want to do to impact traffic?
3) What is your biggest traffic pet peeve?
4) How do you manage the freedom of wanting to drive your own vehicle versus autonomous driving safety?

Continue reading for a short summary or listen to the full interview below.



What does transportation look like to you in 10 years? 

I think the first improvements will be in safety and collision avoidance. We’ll see that in the next ten years. But I think autonomous vehicles are farther out because there are still a lot of things to work out. For autonomous to work, every car needs to be outfitted. Because we’ll need an entire fleet turnover to make that work, it will take some time.

I think the real question is whether self-driving cars will decrease or increase Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). For example, do you drive to work and let the car drive home and come back to get you? It’s an interesting dilemma.

What is it that you want to do to impact traffic? 

  1. Safety is our number one priority. We want to improve safety by incorporating new technology.
  2. Oregon is a small state, and we don’t have a lot of money. We’re trying to figure out how to improve traffic operations with the limited budget that we have. We need cost-effective technologies to do this.
  3. Trying to figure out where we can make the biggest impact using technology. Because we can’t solve congestion, it’s not possible. So let’s try to make small improvements in efficiency and safety of specific locations.

What is your biggest traffic pet peeve? 

Drivers are all different, and each drive with their mentality – some aggressive and others slower.  This mix of driving styles causes congestion. If people just drove consistently we fix some congestion issues without technology. Basic human nature gets in the way.

How do you manage the freedom of wanting to drive your own vehicle versus the greater good of the security and safety of autonomous vehicles? 

I’m not sure how we get past that, maybe its autonomous with a choice. For example, when you reach an area with a certain level of congestion, you must be autonomous. When you reach an area with lower congestion, you could switch to non-autonomous.

What is interesting is, nobody brings up the issue of “what does it do to the insurance industry?” Because who is liable? Is it the facility? The car? The driver? Well, the driver isn’t driving. So it’s interesting to ask, how does it change that industry?

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