Feds want cars to talk to each other

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Obama administration is moving in its final days to require automakers to ensure that cars can “talk” to each other and eventually communicate with their surrounding infrastructure.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is proposing a new rule that would require automakers to include Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication technologies —or “V2V” — on all their new light-duty vehicles. The agency said the Federal Highway Administration also is planning to soon issue guidance for Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications, which involves cars talking to their surroundings, including roads and traffic lights.

The new connected car rules would have to be completed under President-elect Donald Trump, who has been sharply critical of previous regulations imposed by the Obama administration.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said technology that allows cars to communicate with each other, “Has enormous safety potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of crashes and save lives.

“If a driver is making an left-hand turn against oncoming traffic, or trying to pass a large truck on a two lane road, V2V communications will warn drivers of hazards that are out of their sight,” Foxx said. “In other words, what V2V does is give drivers 360-degree awareness to avoid collisions. This is going to make a big difference and spare thousands of families in the future the pain of losing a loved one to an automobile accident.”

The communication between autos would be enabled “by utilizing the radio transmission protocols and spectrum bandwidth collectively known as dedicated short range communications,” according to the transportation department.

Under the proposal, vehicles that have V2V devices would use dedicated short-range communications to transmit data, such as location, direction and speed, to nearby cars.

The DOT said the data “would be updated and broadcast up to 10 times per second to nearby vehicles, and using that information, V2V-equipped vehicles can identify risks and provide warnings to drivers to avoid imminent crashes.”

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies for automakers in Washington, said the federal government would have to make sure there is enough radio frequency band capacity, or spectrum, available for cars to talk to each if the mandate is adopted. Auto industry groups have been pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to reserve space on the radio spectrum for connected cars, which could come at the expense of additional WiFi internet capacity.

“V2V safety messages transmit 10 times per second and any interference could result in a crash, or even worse, an injury or fatality,” the auto alliance said in a statement. “We understand the desire for additional spectrum for Wi-Fi purposes, and the auto and supplier industry have been active participants in the Federal Communication Commission’s open proceeding and have been open to sharing the 5.9 GHz frequency spectrum, but only if it can be proven that no harmful interference occurs.”

The auto alliance group represents Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car USA.

The spectrum issues will ultimately be decided by the Federal Communications Commission, but Foxx said Tuesday that the life-saving potential of the V2V technology makes it a worthwhile use of the contested bandwidth.

“The bottom line is this a technology that has been contemplated and expected for quite some time,” he said. “It’s proven and we know it works.”

Critics have questioned whether the privacy of drivers could be protected if their cars are transmitting information about the location to other nearby vehicles.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said Tuesday “V2V-enabled vehicles exchange only generic safety information.

“The system is designed to operate without using any personal information about specific vehicles, or drivers,” he said. “This is a safety tool, not a data gathering tool.”

Foxx, meanwhile, said he hoped the Trump administration would recognize the safety benefits of the V2V technologies.

“I can’t speak to the next administration, but I can say from a safety perspective, this is a no brainer,” Foxx said.


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing