Why the Feds Want All Cars to Talk to Each Other

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication allows vehicles to be continuously aware of each other. When one car brakes suddenly, cars several yards behind the vehicle could get a safety warning if they get too close.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication allows vehicles to be continuously aware of each other. When one car brakes suddenly, cars several yards behind the vehicle could get a safety warning if they get too close.safercar.gov

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By Paul A. Eisenstein

New rules designed to let cars talk to one another could help “avoid or mitigate” as much as 80 percent of the crashes that occur on U.S. highways, Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx announced on Tuesday.

Fourteen years in the making, the guidelines would require automakers to begin rolling out vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) systems in half of the new cars, trucks and crossovers they build, starting around the 2020 model-year, with the technology to be required in all new vehicles two years later.

But whether the rules will survive the incoming Trump Administration’s push to streamline federal regulations is uncertain.

8 out of 10 Accidents Could be Avoided

“It has been estimated that up to 80 percent of non-impaired collisions could be avoided or mitigated to reduce injuries” with the widespread use of V2V technology, said Sec. Foxx, who also said the Department of Transportation will now consider the possibility of requiring V2V systems on commercial trucks, as well.

In addition to V2V, the Department of Transportation is also working up V2I: A roadway information system, also known as Vehicle-to-Infrastructure.

V2V will allows vehicles to “talk” to one another, sharing their location, speed and direction. It would also provide “360 degree awareness,” said the Transportation chief, noting that the technology could alert a driver if another vehicle decided to make a left turn into oncoming traffic. It would also alert a driver trying to make a pass on a curvy road, alerting them to unseen, oncoming traffic.

In such an instance, a warning would sound to alert the driver and, if they failed to respond, the system would be able to trigger the car’s automatic emergency braking system or other crash-avoidance technologies.

Several automakers have already announced plans to add V2V systems to their vehicles. Cadillac, for example, will begin adding such technology on the new CT6 sedan, but as final standards have not been established, only vehicles equipped with the Cadillac hardware will, at least initially, be able to talk to one another.

Related: After Self-Driving Guidelines, Will the Government and Automakers Play Nice in the Sandbox?

According to Mark Rosekind, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, V2V technology would serve as the “foundation” for a number of other driver assistance and even more advanced technologies now under development. That includes the autonomous and fully driverless vehicles expected to begin coming to market early in the next decade.

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The Department of Transportation is also working up new rules that would call for a roadway information system, also known as Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, or V2I. That would be used, among other things, to alert drivers to weather and traffic conditions.

A pilot V2I program was just announced for Clark County, an area including Las Vegas. Several new Audi models will be able to alert drivers when traffic lights are about to change from red to green. Meanwhile, an extensive V2I pilot project is being set up across more than 100 square miles of highway in metropolitan Detroit.

But the effectiveness of so-called V2X systems will depend on how fast they are implemented.

Rosekind said he expects there could be strong demand for aftermarket systems for vehicles not equipped with built-in V2V and V2I hardware.

Privacy Concerns

There are a few roadblocks, including cost, though it’s expected the price of in-car systems will drop sharply as volume increases.

The proposed V2V rules call for strict efforts to ensure cybersecurity, including the use of 128-bit encryption, said Mark Rosekind. And all data, he added, will be “generic,” containing no personal data. But he also said law enforcement agencies may yet seek to have the ability to identify vehicles or receive alerts when drivers break the law.

There are also some technical issues to resolve before V2V systems begin to be rolled out. The Federal Communications Commission has been under pressure to have the auto industry share the 5.9 gigaHertz frequency spectrum with manufacturers of WiFi systems. A study is underway to determine whether spectrum sharing is possible without causing interference to V2V systems.

The Trump Effect

What is, for now, uncertain, is how the incoming Trump Administration will follow up on the rulemaking process. The president-elect has expressed a strong desire to eliminate old government regulations and limit the adoption of new ones.

Related: Trump's Cabinet Picks So Far

With today’s announcement, a 90-day period for public comment gets underway, and the final V2V rules wouldn’t take effect for another year — if the incoming Transportation Secretary doesn’t reject the proposal.

But V2V technology is one area where regulators, industry officials and safety advocates all seem to be on the same page, with Sec. Foxx expressing cautious optimism the proposal won’t be ditched by the new White House.

If anything, the hope is that the regulations could be broadened going forward. Though the new guidelines do not cover commercial vehicles, they will “add a cornerstone as to what we could do with other modes of transportation…such as trucks,” said the DoT chief.