High-Tech Safety Systems Promise to Cut Auto Accident Rates

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced a plan to advance vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology. The technology would enhance safety by enabling vehicles’ onboard computers to communicate with each other in order to help drivers avoid collisions. The systems give drivers visible and audible warning signals when they perceive threats based on data gathered from other vehicles.

The potential of V2V communication to reduce accidents by warning drivers of safety hazards has already been demonstrated in tests both in controlled conditions and real-world roads.

V2V communication can help a driver know whether it is safe to pass on a two-lane road or make a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic. By enabling cars to communicate from distances of several hundred yards, it warns of potential threats that neither drivers nor onboard sensors can reliably detect.

In August 2012, the Department of Transportation (DOT) launched a year-long pilot program in Ann Arbor, Mich., deploying some 3,000 vehicles with V2V technology. The test demonstrated the ability of vehicles and communication systems from various manufacturers to operate together successfully. The NHTSA is working to finalize its report on the study, which will cover feasibility and a preliminary cost/benefit analysis. The agency will then start working on a regulatory proposal to require V2V technology in new vehicles at some point in the future.

The applications of V2V currently in development do not automatically operate any vehicle systems, unlike features currently available on some models that apply the brakes if a collision is imminent. However, V2V communication is one key to enabling a future of self-driving cars.

That nascent technology is being advanced under a separate ongoing study here in Florida. The Tampa Bay Times reported that a stretch of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando has been outfitted with radio devices that feed the cars information about road and traffic conditions.

Companies including Google, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan all have working prototype vehicles that can operate without any driver input under some conditions.

Florida has become a hotbed of activity in the burgeoning self-driving car industry. It is one of only four states to explicitly permit the use of experimental self-driving cars on public roads. Advocates of the technology say it could dramatically cut accident rates – eventually by 90 percent or more, some claim.