The Government Wants Our Cars to Talk to Each Other

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

When it comes to avoiding traffic accidents, even the safest of drivers can’t know what someone else is going to do. Maybe someone runs a red light. Maybe someone makes an unprotected left turn at an inopportune time. Maybe someone changes lanes without checking to make sure the next lane is empty.

These are the kinds of incidents that even an alert driver can’t prevent, but they’re also the kinds of incidents that could be prevented if vehicles could communicate with each other. Usually abbreviated as V2V, vehicle-to-vehicle communication would allow cars to transmit information to each other, and in the interest of saving lives, the Department of Transportation is moving up the timetable for making V2V technology standard on cars and truck in the United States.

The original mandate was expected to come at the end of 2016, but instead, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx moved that date up a year to 2015.

“Innovations that make our roads and highways safer are essential to building that system. Today’s auto safety standards focus mostly on making millions of crashes each year more survivable. We want to move to a new era in which safety isn’t just about surviving crashes, but making sure that they never happen,” said Foxx.

Foxx didn’t just accelerate the time frame for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to propose rules requiring V2V technology in new cars. He’s also preparing for speedy testing that will ensure V2V communication isn’t interrupted by radio traffic. That means approval less than 12 months after receiving a production-ready device. The NHTSA has also been instructed to accelerate the development of regulations that will govern the implementation of V2V technology.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

The mandate wouldn’t go into effect for several years, but putting it in place earlier would give automakers a better idea of what they will be expected to be able to provide. One of the most difficult hurdles is also the regulation process, which is necessary but incredibly complicated.

Assuming the technology could be put into place quickly and the rules regulating it could be written, V2V communication would open up a whole world of possibilities for human-driven cars as well as driverless cars. Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication would also be possible. In a situation where both systems worked perfectly with all cars on the road, a traffic signal could tell the cars the light was about to change, the cars that needed to stop would all slow down together, and nobody would have an accident.

Even without fully-automated cars, drivers would be able to receive information about other cars on the road, where they are, and what they’re doing. It would lead to better blind spot monitoring, emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and all kinds of other current safety features. A fully automated and integrated system would be the safest, but such a system is much further away than the initial system would be. Even so, expect fatalities to drop significantly after V2V is implemented.

While interference from radio transmissions is already being looked into, one other danger that has the potential to be incredibly serious is the threat of hackers. The security of any V2V or V2I system has to be top notch if it’s going to be safe, and even then there’s still the potential for a breach. Opening up vehicles’ systems to information received from an outside source leaves the potential for the abuse of those systems by malicious parties.

The potential for such an attack doesn’t necessarily mean V2V is a bad idea, but it does mean security needs to be a serious concern while the systems are being developed. The potential for preventing thousands of accidents every year and saving lives makes it an important safety technology that’s worth pursuing. It just needs to be pursued with all forms of safety in mind.

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