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Safety Officials Say Vehicle-To-Vehicle Tech Will Prevent Crashes, Save Lives

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Many traffic headaches in the District could be avoided with the implementation of technology that prevents collisions.
Victoria Pickering: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16688857@N03/3910289274
Many traffic headaches in the District could be avoided with the implementation of technology that prevents collisions.

Technology that can reduce non-alcohol-related car crashes by 80 percent and save thousands of lives will be required in all new automobiles sold in the United States, said federal safety officials at a news conference at Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington. After decades of making cars safer in the event of a crash, the new mandate would require automakers to manufacture cars that can talk to one another to prevent crashes in the first place - using vehicle-to-vehicle technology in the form of short-range communications operating on a radio spectrum dedicated by the FCC for this purpose.

In short, the rules federal safety officials expect automakers to embrace will change driving as we know it, a "moon shot" in the words of Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. Foxx said he intends to propose the safety mandate by the end of the Obama administration.

"The potential of this technology is absolutely enormous," Foxx said.

Neither Foxx nor the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration David Freidman could say whether the vehicle-to-vehicle technology will increase significantly the cost of buying a car, deferring to a research report that is due out in the coming weeks. But Friedman labeled the DOT's announcement to move forward on the technology historic.

"We will look back at this moment in history as one in which further bend the historic arc of transportation safety in favor of preventing injuries and saving lives," Friedman said. "Now is the time to begin to take action to make these safety technologies available to the hundreds of millions of American drivers across our nation."

Vehicle-to-vehicle technology operates on a band a similar to Wi-Fi allowing a car to constantly communicate with other cars nearby. It would know how fast other vehicles are going and in what direction, sending a warning to drivers who are about to collide with another car or pedestrian. DOT has been testing the system in 3,000 vehicles in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Although the FCC has dedicated the bandwidth to the car safety technology, automakers are concerned other industries may encroach upon the limited airwaves and have asked the FCC to commit to protecting it.

Scott Belcher, who heads the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a group that represents automakers as well as government transportation agencies, said car companies would take the lead on implementing vehicle-to-vehicle technology just as the industry has with the work on autonomous, or self-driving, cars.

"I think you will see automobile manufacturers trying to get a competitive edge and I think you will see some manufacturers come out sooner than the rule making with the new technology," said Belcher, who said the cost would not be prohibitive for consumers.

"We're talking about hundreds of dollars not thousands of dollars."

Sec. Foxx was unable to provide a specific timeline for the rollout of the proposed mandate or when consumers might expect to see VtoV technology standard in new cars. 

"We hope, following the submission of the research paper, to potentially publish an advanced notice of proposed rule-making, which would set off a rule making process," Foxx said. "But our goal is to try to get this pushed as far along the pathway of an actual rule as we can within the time we have in this administration. I do think you will see industry engaging with us very closely on this."


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