Cars Are About to Get Chatty

Talking cars could be the first step toward supersafe roads.

In this handout photo provided by Disney and Pixar, (L-R) British spy Finn McMissile, four-time Piston Cup champion Lightning McQueen and his best pal Mater (life-size remote controlled models based on the characters) from Disney and Pixar's 'Cars 2' roll into Bob's Big Boy for a pit stop on June 17, 2011 in Burbank, California.
National Journal
Alex Brown
Add to Briefcase
Alex Brown
Feb. 3, 2014, 10:30 a.m.

The road is the new so­cial net­work — and it could save your life. Cars will soon be swap­ping mes­sages at the rate of 10 per second, then bring­ing the driver in­to the con­ver­sa­tion if they de­cide things are get­ting dan­ger­ous.

If the sys­tem works as prom­ised, fed­er­al high­way reg­u­lat­ors be­lieve talk­ing cars could pre­vent or re­duce 80 per­cent of crash scen­ari­os that don’t in­volve im­paired drivers.

The Na­tion­al High­way Traffic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Monday that it is work­ing to al­low vehicle-to-vehicle com­mu­nic­a­tion and hopes, as the tech­no­logy ad­vances, to “be­gin work­ing on a reg­u­lat­ory pro­pos­al that would re­quire V2V devices in new vehicles in a fu­ture year.”

V2V tech­no­logy would put all equipped cars in com­mu­nic­a­tion with each oth­er, giv­ing them real-time speed and loc­a­tion up­dates for sur­round­ing traffic. If a wreck be­comes im­min­ent, the cars will warn their drivers, with hopes of avert­ing a col­li­sion.

“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,” said Trans­port­a­tion Sec­ret­ary An­thony Foxx.

NHTSA act­ing Ad­min­is­trat­or Dav­id Fried­man hailed the de­cision as a mile­stone. “V2V crash-avoid­ance tech­no­logy has game-chan­ging po­ten­tial to sig­ni­fic­antly re­duce the num­ber of crashes, in­jur­ies, and deaths on our na­tion’s roads,” he said. “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 tech­no­logy.”

The Tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions In­dustry As­so­ci­ation and Cisco — which has worked on con­nec­ted vehicles — praised the an­nounce­ment. Not only will it make cars safer, they said, but it will fi­nally be­gin to util­ize the In­tel­li­gent Trans­port­a­tion Ser­vice spec­trum at 5.9 GHz that was set aside for such use.

For now, talk­ing cars will only be able to alert their drivers to danger, not take evas­ive ac­tion on their own. But get­ting that con­nec­ted vehicle tech­no­logy road-ready could be a huge first step to­ward mak­ing driver­less cars more feas­ible.

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