U.S. details plans for car-to-car safety communications

NHTSA said that cars in the pilot project were able to transmit and receive messages from one another despite being made by different car companies.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- After more than a decade of research into car-to-car communications, U.S. auto safety regulators took a step forward today by unveiling their plan for requiring cars to have wireless gear that will enable them to warn drivers of danger.

These vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) transmitters and software won’t be cheap, costing an estimated $341 to $350 per vehicle in 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a report.

But the technology could save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of crashes each year by providing cars with information they never will be able to gather simply from cameras and sensors.

Just two of the possible features that rely on V2V technology -- one that warns drivers if they don’t have enough time to make a left turn and another that urges them to stop if another car is about to run a red light -- could prevent 25,000 to 592,000 crashes and save 49 to 1,083 lives annually when the entire U.S. vehicle fleet has the technology, according to today’s report.

“Safety is our top priority, and V2V technology represents the next great advance in saving lives,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an announcement. “This technology could move us from helping people survive crashes to helping them avoid crashes altogether.”

The report also included a draft version of standards that Foxx has vowed to propose by the time President Barack Obama leaves office in 2017. They would be known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 150 and would set minimum requirements for the V2V transmitters and messages.

The current V2V system is set up in such a way that that cars swap messages 10 times per second about their position in space, which direction they are headed and how quickly they are moving in that direction. If two cars are on a collision course, the driver can be presented a warning.

NHTSA said its rules would require new cars to have the underlying V2V equipment but would not mandate any specific safety features. The decision of which features to activate would be up to automakers, depending on their engineering capabilities and their level of comfort with the new technology.

Eight major automakers -- Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Daimler AG, Nissan Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., and Volkswagen AG -- have been developing V2V technology in tandem with the government through a group called the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership, or CAMP. Despite the cost of the technology, automakers have embraced it as a way to make driving safer.

“NHTSA’s kickoff of the rule-making process for V2V communications demonstrates the country is well on its way to deploying this lifesaving technology,” said John Bozzella, the CEO of the Washington lobbying group Global Automakers.

Each of the CAMP group’s members provided cars for a pilot project in Ann Arbor, Mich., that ran from mid-2012 until late 2013. About 3,000 drivers drove V2V-enabled vehicles on ordinary city streets to test the capabilities and limits of the communications system.

Technology suppliers such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Denso Corp. are among the companies offering V2V communications equipment and software to the industry.

NHTSA said that cars in the pilot project were able to transmit and receive messages from one another despite being made by different car companies. These cars were given credentials through a security management system so only legitimate messages could be received.

NHTSA still needs to figure out who will manage this security network and how it will pay be paid for. The agency said it plans to put out a solicitation asking if any private entities have an interest in running it.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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