Group pushes informed travel

If Neil Schuster gets his way, a nationwide system might just be watching when you park, make U-turns and run that stop sign. But you might be safer as a result.

"The technology, literally, is there," said Schuster, president of Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA).

Members of the advocacy group are pushing for a national automobile tracking system that would use a variety of technologies to gather road information and disseminate the data to travelers. The system, which ITSA members call the Integrated Networks of Transportation Information, would gather information from sensors, radio, Global Positioning System devices and the 511 traffic information phone system and send it out in a variety of ways, including via wireless phones and pagers.

"The integrated network to us is how we can collect, combine, interpret and then share by distributing information," Schuster said. "It's almost like the Internet."

ITSA was created as a forum for the public and private sectors. It has more than 500 members from business, government, research, public safety and emergency rescue organizations as well as associations and medical communities.

Better information about travel, routes and safety could help create a transportation system "without injuries, fatalities or delays," he said.

ITSA officials envision a distributed network built on existing technology. States already collect information through sensors and cameras for the 511 system, and they also rely on radio, the Web and road signs, Schuster said. Cell locations can be pinpointed, and GPS units can track vehicles.

A highway system would have privacy safeguards, including no collection of personal information, Schuster said.

"Do you care if I'm driving on the Beltway? No, you care about the vehicle," he said. "You have given up a lot of privacy with your cell phone, but you don't worry about it."

But privacy advocates are concerned about the car-tracking policy and the technologies. Although many of the technologies that ITSA officials have discussed have valid applications, they raise serious privacy questions, said Linda Ackerman, staff counsel for the PrivacyActivism nonprofit group.

"It presents the threatening possibility of real-time personal tracking by vehicle registration and license plate," Ackerman said. "It can put you at a certain place at a certain time."

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