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Washington — A House panel will hold a hearing Thursday on a tug of war between automakers and the tech industry over a valuable piece of the wireless spectrum that could save tens of thousands of lives.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee overseeing commerce, manufacturing and trade will hear from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, General Motors Co., Cisco Systems Inc. and others on "vehicle to vehicle" technology that could prevent thousands of traffic crashes.

Nat Beuse, who is NHTSA's associate administrator for vehicle safety research, said in written testimony Wednesday that the agency is working hard to accelerate a regulation requiring vehicles to communicate with one another.

The push comes as the Federal Communications Commission considers narrowing part of the wireless spectrum now reserved for cars to "talk" to each other; that would open more bandwidth for wireless connectivity for electronic gadgets. Congress is considering a bill that would require automakers to share the spectrum with electronic devices.

Beuse acknowledged that testing won't be complete for a while. NHTSA will have a "preliminary test plan within 12 months after industry makes production-ready devices available for testing."

Other technical issues need to be resolved: "in order for V2V to be fully and effectively deployed. National and international standards must be adopted to insure interoperability of V2V systems deployed by all automakers and those deploying related (vehicle to infrastructure) systems," Beuse said.

Earlier this month, two senators introduced a bill to promote adoption of vehicle-to-vehicle technology that could eliminate up to 80 percent of all crashes in which alcohol is not a factor.

The technology — which involves cars repeatedly sending wireless signals to each other — could alert cars if an oncoming vehicle is about to disregard a stop sign. It can detect threats from hundreds of yards away and tell drivers if they can pass or make a left turn. It involves vehicles getting signals from infrastructure such as traffic signals and bridges.

Barry Einsig, a Cisco executive, will tell the committee that connected cars will save "countless lives and trillions of dollars in property damage and lost productivity."

"Cars connected to each other will be able to help drivers avoid everything from a fender bender to a deadly crash. Cars will have the capability to warn motorists to brake immediately or even take evasive action when accidents are imminent," said Einsig.

Harry Lightsey, a General Motors executive, said the automaker is moving to test technology for sharing the spectrum. He said in his testimony that GM is "open to sharing the road safety spectrum as long as such sharing does not interfere with the operation of V2V. We are very optimistic about a sharing proposal from Cisco that would operate on a 'listen, detect and vacate' basis. We have engaged with Cisco and plan to begin testing their technology as soon as possible."

Last year, GM said it would offer vehicle-to-vehicle technologies starting with the 2017 Cadillac CTS that will go on sale late next year. Lightsey said other automakers will follow. "We are aware and are encouraged that many other automakers have plans to deploy V2V technology in the near future," Lightsey said.

U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, introduced legislation to promote investments in vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology that the bill says will "improve vehicle safety, reduce accidents and avoid congestion."

Under a tentative timetable laid out in 2014, automakers aren't likely to be required to install the in-vehicle communication devices until 2020 — and even then, they will be phased in.

University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute director Peter Sweatman — who oversaw a connected vehicle test in the Ann Arbor area for two years — will tell the committee that the spectrum must be protected for auto safety. He said the test "collected 115 billion messages from 35 million miles of driving."

The school plans a test of 20,000 vehicles across southeast Michigan over the next two years, "building on the I-96-I-696 smart corridor created by Michigan Department of Transportation during 2015." The Ann Arbor test deployment will be expanded to 9,000 vehicles and will extend the testing to cyclists and pedestrians.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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