A fatal Pennsylvania bus crash has brought renewed calls for salvaging a safety technology that once held the promise of saving thousands of lives on U.S. roads.
On the night of Jan. 5, 2020, five people were killed when a speeding bus overturned on a wet highway near Mount Pleasant, Pa. Three trucks and a passenger vehicle subsequently collided with the bus or each other in the immediate aftermath.
Had the vehicles been equipped with connected technology that enabled them to exchange messages about deteriorating road conditions or the imminent hazard presented by the overturned bus, the crashes may have been avoided or their severity diminished.
That's one conclusion from a National Transportation Safety Board report issued this month. In recommendations stemming from the crash, the board pushed federal regulators to develop performance standards for connected-vehicle technology and mandate its inclusion in new vehicles.
That, of course, is nothing new.
The NTSB made the same recommendations in 2013, and NHTSA took no action. In the meantime, the fledgling promise of such communications — known through the auto industry as vehicle-to-everything, or V2X — has languished.
One recent reason for the struggles toward meaningful adoption involves a November 2021 decision by the Federal Communications Commission that stripped the auto industry of more than half the wireless spectrum reserved for the transmission of these safety-related communications.
That decision has left automakers and infrastructure providers unsure of what safety messages can be deployed on the remaining 30 MHz of that wireless spectrum, whether operations on other bands would interfere with the transmission of critical safety messages and, more generally, how to proceed.
"It's really unfortunate that we're in a situation where we're now having to choose between what life-saving applications we're going to be able to fit in a limited-spectrum environment," said Laura Chace, CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advocates for transportation technology.