With a budding technology called vehicle-to-vehicle communication, cars are actually able to communicate with each other while on the road.
The innovation, called V2V for short, allows cars fitted with the technology to send and receive “safety data” such as speed and position to and from cars around them.
Cars fitted with V2V devices can transmit and receive messages 10 times per second. If a car is hurling towards a red light, a V2V device could detect it from hundreds of yards off and alert an incoming driver, potentially preventing a collision. The car-talk could also help determine when passing on two-lane roads is safe, or help drivers when yielding in traffic.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is working with eight major international car manufacturers, such as Ford and Toyota, which have invested in the department’s research.
Research from the DOT “estimates that V2V has the potential to help drivers avoid or mitigate 70 to 80 percent of vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers,” according to Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) David Friedman.
The DOT has conducted tests of V2V technology, including an almost 3,000 car “model deployment” in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2012. The “real-world” test, which was the largest ever road-test on V2V technology, indicated that products from different manufacturers were compatible with each other, and that the technology could work “in real-world environments,” a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration release said.
In another test program, the DOT set up “driver acceptance clinics” in six different states in order to see how people reacted to driving cars with V2V safety-systems. The V2V systems tested included “in-car collision warnings, ‘do not pass’ alerts, warnings that a vehicle ahead has stopped suddenly, and other similar safety messages.”
A total of 700 people participated in the clinics. The study showed that 9 out of 10 of those drivers would like to have V2V features in their own car.
On Feb. 3. 2014, the NHTSA announced that it will begin the process of enabling V2V technology to be used in light vehicles (passenger vehicles and light trucks). After releasing a finalized report on their research in the coming weeks, the administration will start working on a regulatory proposal that would require all new vehicles to have V2V devices in them in the future.
Friedman compared the NHTSA’s actions to the introduction of standards for seat belts, airbags, and electronic stability control technology. He said that decades from now we will likely look at V2V technology innovation in the same way.
In addition to improving driving safety, the NHTSA claims that V2V technology could improve both mobility and the environment.
The V2V devices would “not involve exchanging or recording personal information or tracking vehicle movements,” the NHTSA release said. The communication between vehicles would only contain “basic safety data.” However, the layers of security and privacy protection in the devices could be peeled back through “defined procedures” in order to identify a vehicle or group of vehicles. That would only be done if “there is a need to fix a safety problem,” the administration release said.
It is unclear whether or not information from V2V devices could eventually be used by insurance providers.
V2V devices currently just provide warnings to drivers and do not help to control the vehicle in any way. Some newer cars on the market today do have automatic braking systems that apply the brakes independently in order to avoid running into or backing into things, using sensors in/on the car. The NHTSA expects V2V technology and “active safety” technologies like that to eventually blend together.
Self-driving cars suddenly don’t seem so futuristic anymore.