Feds Propose to Make Vehicles Talk to Each Other

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CARS.COM — Federal safety regulars, citing the potential to greatly prevent or mitigate car crashes, today proposed a rule that would require all cars and light trucks to have technology that lets them communicate with each other.

Related: Michigan Legislation Paves Way for Self-Driving Cars

When the technology is on all cars, “up to 80 percent of non-impaired crashes could be eliminated or mitigated,” Secretary Anthony Foxx, head of the Department of Transportation, said at a press conference. He said it would give cars “360-degree awareness” to avoid crashes.

The vehicle-to-vehicle communication (so-called V2V) would be a basis also for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication (talking to stoplights, for example). And Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters in response to questions that research already is underway for extending the V2V requirement to heavy trucks.

With V2V, short-range (up to about 300 meters) radio devices would continuously exchange information about location, direction and speed, as well as driver actions, such as hitting the brakes, with other vehicles nearby. The system would identify collision risks and set off warnings to the drivers. The officials said that, as proposed, drivers would not be able to turn off the broadcast of data to other cars, but they would be able to silence the warnings.

NHTSA says the V2V devices could identify risks at greater distances and be less affected by weather and other conditions than current vehicles’ onboard radar- and camera-based electronic safety systems (such as automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and adaptive cruise control) safety technology. It also would be able to “see” around corners and anticipate problems developing many vehicles ahead. NHTSA says the V2V data also could be used by those in-car systems to avoid or mitigate collisions.

Today’s proposal begins a 90-day comment period before a final rule. Rosekind and Foxx estimated that when final, V2V technology could be required on half of new vehicles in three years and all new ones in five years. The full benefit would not be realized until all cars on the road have the gear, but Rosekind said there would be gains in safety along the way as more vehicles have it. He said NHTSA also expects devices to become available so people can retrofit their current cars with the new technology. “We believe there will be a pretty strong aftermarket interest,” he said.

NHTSA estimates the V2V technology will add about $341 to $350 to the cost of a vehicle in 2020, dropping to an eventual $209 to $235 by 2058. But it also estimates that it could save billions of dollars a year by cutting crash-related expenses as well as traffic congestion.

Significant questions remain to be addressed before a final regulation. Foxx said today the proposed rule incorporates a strong encryption requirement for security from hacking and it protects personal privacy by collecting the information anonymously and not storing the data. The officials were less specific about how the data might or might not be available for use by law enforcement (such as for speed limit enforcement).

There also are competing demands over the broadcast spectrum for the devices. A slice of spectrum was set aside by the Federal Communications Commission years ago for automotive applications, but it has so far been unused and there is intense pressure from other industries, including cable and wireless, to share that spectrum. Foxx said the proposed rule “leaves room” for research on potential innovations on the use of the spectrum.

The proposal was announced as the clock winds down on the current administration. Asked whether the incoming Trump Administration, which has said will cut regulation, might stall the V2V rule, Foxx said he thinks the public will continue to support safety regulation. “Obviously, I can’t speak for the next administration, but from a safety perspective this is a no brainer.”


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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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