WASHINGTON — In a move that signals a great technological leap forward for the auto industry, the federal government announced Monday that it will take steps to require all new cars and light trucks to communicate with each other, with the hopes of drastically reducing the total of more than 30,000 vehicle deaths each year.
The technology, known as “vehicle-to-vehicle” or “V2V,” gives cars the ability to “talk” to each other and exchange safety data such as speed and position. If a nearby car abruptly changes lanes and moves into another car’s blind spot, the car would be alerted. The technology relies on vehicles repeatedly sending wireless signals to each other via a dedicated short-range radio network.
“Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto safety improvements, building on the lifesaving achievements we’ve already seen with safety belts and air bags,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said during a news conference in Washington. “By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the U.S. remains the leader in the global automotive industry.”
The move toward V2V has enormous implications for Silicon Valley. Companies like Google and Tesla Motors have been at the forefront of efforts to develop self-driving or autonomous cars. And companies like Cisco stand to gain millions of new customers since the infrastructure for the technology basically relies on wireless systems.
“V2V is wholly harmonious with the efforts toward vehicle automation,” Foxx said. “It’s a building block that would be used in autonomous vehicles.”
Research on V2V technology has been underway for nearly a decade, and more than 3,000 vehicles currently have the technology as part of a pilot program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Federal transportation officials did not say when the new regulations would go into effect, but hope to propose the new V2V rule before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.
“The potential of V2V to save lives is enormous,” said David Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. “The results could be revolutionary for roadway safety.”
For decades, much of the focus in transportation has been about surviving the traumatic impact of crashes through features like air bags and seat belts. But the future is largely about avoiding those crashes in the first place, as future vehicles will be “smart” enough to realize when an accident is going to happen.
“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the U.S., with approximately 33,000 people killed and 2.3 million injured each year on America’s roads,” said Scott Belcher, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. “While the auto industry has made great strides to reduce fatalities and injuries after a crash, the next giant leap is to enable real-time communication between vehicles and with the world around them so crashes can be avoided in the first place.”