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Cars that talk could save thousands of lives

Cars that talk could save thousands of livesCars that talk could save thousands of lives

Cars that talk could save thousands of lives

If cars could talk, the stories they’d tell … and the lives they could save. Cars that communicated to one another—say, when they’re approaching an intersection or about to make a left turn—could save as many as 1,100 lives and 728,000 injuries per year, according to federal estimates. So-called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) wireless communications have been demonstrated to work in several pilot projects, and now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing to require it in all cars.

The purpose is for the technology to warn drivers, for example, when there’s a car in an oncoming lane and it’s not safe to pass, or to start a left turn. While many cars today already have driver safety aids that can detect, avoid and/or mitigate impending crashes, the advantage of V2V is that it can “see” 360 degrees for hundreds of yards, including around corners, past tall vehicles ahead, and over hills. (Learn more about car safety.)

Learn more about V2V in "The road to self-driving cars."

The challenge is that for V2V to work, a substantial portion of the cars on the road need to have compatible systems installed. In addition to new cars, NHTSA is studying aftermarket V2V devices that could be added to older models. And while modern safety aids in many new cars, such as pre-collision braking and lane-keeping assistance can actually intervene to avoid an accident, at this point NHTSA is only considering requiring the V2V devices to alert drivers to take action.

“V2V crash avoidance technology has game-changing potential,” said NHTSA Administer David Friedman in a statement. “Decades from now, it’s likely we’ll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of standards for seat belts, air bags, and electronic stability control.”

A consortium of automakers has been working together to develop V2V technology (and it’s natural follow-on technology, vehicle-to-infrastructure, such as stoplights, crosswalks, construction zones, and more).

NHTSA did not announce when it might require V2V, but after years of study, the agency announced its intention to propose such a rule sometime next year. One sticking point may be the airwaves required to transmit vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Years ago, the government set aside some bandwidth for such transmissions. But the Federal Communications Commission has proposed reallocating some of that spectrum to accommodate growing WiFi networks and other consumer wireless communications. NHTSA’s report says the question “requires further study.”

–Eric Evarts

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