Vehicle-to-vehicle technology could reduce fatal car accidents by as much as 80%, and the U.S. government wants to make it mandatory in all new vehicles. This could be the most significant automotive safety innovation since seat belts became mandatory.
Automakers have hit something of a safety feature plateau. What I mean is that while many new cars coming with as many as a dozen airbags, blind spot monitoring, electronic stability control, and even systems that automatically apply the brakes at low speeds, more than 33,000 people still died in cars in 2012. Though traffic deaths have been falling to near-historic lows, that’s still a lot of unintentionally dead people.
A vast majority of these fatal accidents involve multiple vehicles, and that is where vehicle-to-vehicle communications come in. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Association, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation, have approved the first round of V2V systems for use in modern vehicles. Automakers and non-automakers alike are already working on V2V systems in the pursuit of both better fuel economy and semi-autonomous cars, but the potential to reduce or nearly eliminate traffic deaths is perhaps the biggest benefit to vehicle communication systems.
These systems will “talk” to other, similarly-equipped cars on the road, delivering a constant flow of information on road and traffic conditions. The government’s proposal calls for systems that can communicate with with other cars within 300 yards, fore or aft, giving the car a view of the road ahead even when the driver can’t see. This will allow cars to react instantly to road debris or a potential accident, though it will take a decade or more for these systems to become prevalent on American roads, and that’s if other issues don’t stall adoption.
First off, automakers need to all get on the same bandwagon when it comes to bandwidth and communications technology, and a proposal to open the 5.9 Ghz band to unlicensed WiFi devices could put V2V systems at risk for hacking. After all, V2V systems are of no use to anyone if they’re only talking to a few cars wearing the same badge, though national laws could help make these systems more secure. A stickier issue could be one of privacy, and while I’m sure the government will end up winning that case (“for the greater good”), it could delay adoption of these devices substantially.
But with these first important steps, the world of talking cars just got a little bit closer.