Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
ITS Joint Program Office

About ITS Standards

ITS Standards Background

What Is ITS   |   What Are Standards   |  What Are ITS Standards   |   How Standards Facilitate Interoperability

What is ITS?

ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) improve transportation safety and mobility and enhance productivity through the use of advanced communications technologies. ITS encompasses a broad range of wireless and wire line communications-based information and electronics technologies. When integrated into the transportation system's infrastructure, and in vehicles themselves, these technologies relieve congestion, improve safety and enhance American productivity.

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What Are Standards?

Standards define an architecture of interrelated systems that work together to deliver transportation services. An ITS architecture defines how systems functionally operate and the interconnection of information exchanges that must take place between these systems to accomplish transportation services. An architecture is functionally oriented and not technology-specific which allows the architecture to remain effective over time. It defines "what must be done," not "how it will be done."

Most standards are voluntary, consensus-based, and open:

  • Voluntary, meaning their use is not mandated by law
  • Consensus-based, meaning that a published standard has attained general agreement through cooperation and compromise in a process that is inclusive of all interested parties
  • Open, meaning that they are not proprietary and are available for anyone to use

The use of standards encourages industry growth by minimizing development costs, increasing compatibility and interoperability, and increasing buyer and seller confidence in products.

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What Are ITS Standards?

There are hundreds of standards used across all different types of transportation, such as vehicle safety standards, road and pavement standards, and rail standards. ITS standards define how ITS systems, products, and components can interconnect, exchange information and interact to deliver services within a transportation network. ITS standards are open-interface standards that establish communication rules for how ITS devices can perform, how they can connect, and how they can exchange data in order to interoperate. It is important to note that ITS standards are not design standards: They do not specify specific products or designs to use. Instead, the use of standards gives transportation agencies confidence that components from different manufacturers will work together, without removing the incentive for designers and manufacturers to compete to provide products that are more efficient or offer more features.

Although stand-alone ITS applications create benefits, the integration of ITS devices and center-based systems results in the greatest efficiencies and improves mobility and safety. ITS standards are an important element in the integration of advanced technologies and systems. ITS standards allow both like and different ITS devices and equipment to exchange and interpret data directly through a common communications interface. This exchange and recognition of data can take place between devices located within a single system or between devices operating in different systems. By using standards-based ITS, agencies can join forces to extend the reach and capabilities of their ITS infrastructure investments. An example of this integration is a road weather data collection system using pavement sensors that can communicate with nearby dynamic message signs so that the appropriate warning messages can be automatically displayed based on pavement condition data sent by the pavement sensor.

ITS standards cover different "communications layers" in their description of how data is communicated between the relevant transportation systems. These layers start with the description of how bits of data are combined and transmitted and extend to the meaning of the entire message sent over the communications path. ITS standards specify consistency and compatibility of the interconnects and interfaces, both hardware and software, within an advanced transportation system.

How Standards Facilitate Interoperability

The ability of different ITS devices and components to exchange and interpret data directly through a common communications interface, and to use the exchanged data to operate together effectively, is called interoperability. Interoperability is key to achieving the full potential of ITS. Seamless data exchange would allow an emergency services vehicle to notify a traffic management center to trigger a change in the timing of the traffic signals on the path to a hospital, in order to assist the responding ambulance.

Interoperability is defined as the ability of ITS systems to:

  • Provide information and services to other systems
  • Use exchanged information and services to operate together effectively.

A standards-based approach to integration helps to facilitate the exchange of transportation data as well as more easily accommodate future equipment replacements, systems upgrades, and system expansions.

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