Washington— The U.S. Transportation Department said Monday it plans to propose requiring all new cars and trucks to eventually communicate with one another, which could one day help reduce up to 80 percent of crash deaths.
But under the tentative timetable laid out, automakers aren’t likely to be required to install the in-vehicle communication devices until around 2020 — and even then, the devices will be phased in.
The revolutionary technology could reshape how Americans drive and dramatically reduce the costs of the annual 32,000 road deaths or more and 2 million injuries — crashes that cost society more than $200 billion annually.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will begin working on a proposal to require vehicle-to-vehicle communication in future cars and trucks. He said he hopes to propose the regulation by the time the Obama administration leaves office in January 2017. NHTSA gives automakers at least 18 months of lead time before mandating new technology.
The biggest benefit will be at intersections, where most crashes occur.
In the nearer term, driver smartphones may help drivers avoid crashes by communicating with one another — even before vehicle to vehicle technology is in place.
Foxx said at a news conference the technology could save “thousands of lives and even prevent accidents in the first place.”
The technology — which involves vehicles repeatedly sending wireless signals to each other — can help alert cars if a oncoming car is about to drive through a stop sign. It can detect threats from hundreds of yards away and tell drivers if they can pass safely or make a left turn. The Transportation Department has a pilot project in Arizona to test signals to sight-impaired pedestrians.
“DOT believes that the signal this announcement sends to the market will significantly enhance development of this technology and pave the way for market penetration of (vehicle-to-vehicle) applications,” the department said.
Acting NHTSA chief David Friedman said the technology is a “game changer” and “nothing short of revolutionary.”
But major challenges need to be addressed: including ensuring that the devices would be secure — to prevent hackers couldn’t take control of the signals.
“We want to make sure we’ve turned over every stone and we’ve addressed any serious concerns,” Friedman 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.”
NHTSA also expects to decide soon whether to require future cars to have active collision avoidance systems — like automatic braking that halts a vehicle about to strike a stopped vehicle in front of it. Those systems are currently on many luxury cars.
Greg Winfree, assistant secretary for Research and Technology, said some automakers are already researching how they could tie together vehicle-to-vehicle systems and automatic braking. Future systems would also include cars talking to sensors embedded in highways. A car could alert a highway sign that the roads were icy — and the sign could flash a warning to drivers, Winfree said. “This a technological first step,” Winfree said.
AAA President and CEO Bob Darbelnet praised the Transportation Department’s move, but said the government must address concerns about data.
“Vehicle technology that has the potential to automatically identify safety risks and provide drivers with real-time crash avoidance warnings can make America’s road network a safer place for its millions of users nationwide,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work with U.S. DOT, NHTSA and other stakeholders to ensure that the safety benefits of this technology are fully realized and that consumers remain top-of-mind as cars become increasingly connected.”
Drivers must know what data is being collected and have the right to share it without whom they want. Drivers “should not be forced to relinquish control as a condition of purchasing or leasing a vehicle or of receiving a connected-vehicle service.”
Scott Belcher, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, the nation’s largest association representing the transportation and technology communities including major automakers and suppliers, praised the announcement.
“The vision of ‘talking’ cars that avoid crashes is well on the way to becoming a reality. And we’re not just talking about cars talking to cars, but about cars talking to bikes, trucks talking to motorcycles, and even buses talking to pedestrians. This promises to significantly reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our nation’s roads while unleashing a new wave of innovation from advanced traffic management systems and smart mobility apps to real-time traffic, transit and parking information,” he said.
Foxx said the technology will not compromise driver privacy and won’t record the location of drivers. Some privacy advocates and conservative websites have raised concerns. NHTSA also has to make sure that all of the cars “are talking the same language” in working to standardize signals that cars and trucks will send to one another.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, said much work needs to be done.
Spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said devices to connect vehicles “may play a larger role in future road safety, but many pieces of a large puzzle still need to fit together. We need to address security and privacy, along with consumer acceptance, affordability, achieving the critical mass to enable the ‘network effect’ and establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework.”
NHTSA has also been debating whether to begin the rule-making process to require future vehicles to have forward-collision warning systems and advanced braking — or if it should simply encourage the technology by naming which vehicles use it in five-star crash-rating program.
The U.S. Transportation Department in August completed a 12-month, $25 million study of 3,000 vehicles in the Ann Arbor area to see if connected cars can help each other avoid crashes. NHTSA will release the findings from the study in the coming weeks.
During the past 15 months, more than 12 billion basic safety messages have been collected, and 60,000 interactions between participating vehicles have occurred.