With proponents promising the technology could significantly reduce crashes, U.S. regulators plan to speed up the process of developing new rules requiring cars to electronically talk to one another.
Proposed connected car guidelines will now be released by the end of this year, according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The government had originally said the proposal wouldn’t be ready until sometime in 2016.
“Connected, automated vehicles that can sense the environment around them and communicate with other vehicles and with infrastructure have the potential to revolutionize road safety and save thousands of lives,” Foxx said during a visit to the Silicon Valley research center operated by automotive supplier Delphi.
There’s a growing consensus among regulators, automakers and safety groups that technology is becoming available that could significant reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on U.S. roadways. That includes the autonomous vehicles that some carmakers hope to have in production by the beginning of the next decade.
But even before then, advocates believe safety efforts could take a giant leap by setting up so-called vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure networks, also known as V2V and V2I. The former would allow cars to communicate directly with one another, the latter would allow a car to connect with the highway system itself. Among the potential opportunities:
- A car might signal to others behind it when weather conditions turn dicey, or flash an alert when there’s a traffic tie-up, allowing other vehicles to quickly detour;
- The infrastructure system could monitor for traffic conditions, alerting both motorists and police or rescue crews;
- A vehicle that might be about to run a red light could alert crossing traffic to avoid a crash.
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While some autonomous vehicle developers believe their vehicles will need to be able to operate without a V2V or V2I network, others insist that having such a communications system in place would make self-driving cars all the more safe.
The technology could also permit vehicles to “platoon,” or operate at much closer distances and at much higher speeds than can be handled on crowded highways than is possible today.
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Several prototype connected car systems have been undergoing tests in recent years, including one in the area around Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Transportation Dept. recently authorized the creation of a larger regional test program covering much of Southeast Michigan, with Detroit at the hub.
Connected car proponents are hoping that the government will begin requiring all future vehicles to be equipped with V2V and V2I systems.
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“The Department wants to speed the nation toward an era when vehicle safety isn’t just about surviving crashes. It’s about avoiding them,” Foxx said during his speech. “Connected, automated vehicles that can sense the environment around them and communicate with other vehicles and with infrastructure have the potential to revolutionize road safety and save thousands of lives.”