"Things are sort of lining up in a way that is useful and is going to help "vehicle-to-infrastructure' get deployed," said Steven Bayless, vice president of public policy for the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a Washington, D.C., trade group. "We think there's an opportunity for vehicle-to-infrastructure in the bill, so we're going to push for that. The path is pretty clear."
Policymakers, safety advocates and automakers have longed for a fleet equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems, linked together by a smart infrastructure, to reduce crashes and ease traffic congestion. But the pace of the technology's rollout, more than a decade in the making, has been hindered by several factors, including a lack of federal standards for the in-vehicle systems and limited funding for infrastructure deployment to link connected cars.
Yet the Obama administration took key steps to advance the technology's rollout last week.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's proposed mandate for all new cars to have vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems calls for a shared set of standards to ensure that connected vehicles can communicate with one another in a common language and sets a timetable for the technology's rollout. NHTSA estimates the mandate will take full effect in 2023, assuming the proposal becomes a final rule in 2019.
"A lot of folks were worried about sticking their nose out there without a standard," Bayless said. "With a standard, it gives automakers confidence to move forward."
NHTSA said it plans to issue guidance soon for how state and local governments could deploy vehicle-to-infrastructure systems, adding another measure of clarity.
NHTSA has said a connected fleet and infrastructure could prevent some 80 percent of vehicle crashes involving nonimpaired drivers. The systems use dedicated short-range communications radios to relay basic vehicle data -- such as speed and direction -- between vehicles 10 times per second. If the communications indicate an impending collision at a stoplight, for example, the vehicles can warn drivers to take action to avert it.
Automakers likewise view V2V technology as a key enabler of autonomous vehicles, which they see as a principal means of reducing the number of crashes caused by human error. Dedicated short-range communications messages have a range of about 300 yards, which NHTSA says is about triple the effective range of the radar, cameras and sensors of modern automated driving systems. V2V and V2I can also "see" around corners, allowing drivers to be warned of risks beyond their line of sight.
Autonomous vehicles also need clear lane markings and smooth roads to operate safely, which means Trump's infrastructure ambitions are shaping up as an important turning point for the technology.