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War on Distracted Driving: Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication

Last updated on May 16, 2017 at 02:41 pm

We live in a society addicted to connectedness. With cellphones acting as our fifth limb, computers as our best friends and tablets as our travel companions, we are in constant communication with one another – even while driving.

Any driver should know that handling a car requires complete focus. Regardless, over 3,300 people died from distracted driving-related car accidents in the U.S. in 2012 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, distraction.gov. Since studies show that you’re twice as likely to get into a wreck when you’re texting, it’s no surprise distracted driving has become a hot topic in Washington.

Last month, Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, met with business executives from the auto and technology industries on Capitol Hill to voice his concerns about distracted driving. As chairman of a committee which is responsible for ensuring laws are in place to keep the highways safe, Rockefeller criticized these industries for perpetuating this issue by making products that distract drivers.

While politicians push for legislation against distracted driving, the  DOT and NHTSA are waging their own war: fighting technology with technology.

After concluding a pilot study of 3,000 cars in 2012, the NHTSA has announced its plans to move forward with enabling vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for light cars. These technologies, the NHTSA believes, will fight distracted driving by significantly decreasing the number of car accidents.

Although we’re not quite ready for time-travelling, flying cars, V2V technology allows cars to ”talk” to each other by sending and receiving basic safety data like speed, location and direction of travel. This information establishes a 360-degree situational awareness by identifying risks and warning drivers to avoid common crash types such as lane changes, rear ends and intersection crashes. These warnings are intended to give drivers enough time to take their foot off the gas pedal.

According to David Friedman, Acting Administrator for the NHSTA, V2V technology has “game-changing potential” to reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on the roads. Friedman believes this time will be remembered as the point when the “historical arc of transportation” changed “for the better.” He sees V2V on the same innovative level as seatbelts and airbags.

Seatbelts and airbags undoubtedly changed the world of car safety, but will V2V boast the same effect?

The benefits of email were obvious when a few people had computers with accounts, but email didn’t change the world until they became ubiquitous. V2V works the same way: even if every new car was equipped with it tomorrow, it would take a decade for a majority of cars on the road to have the technology. To have widespread effect on the roads, V2V requires a large amount of cars “talking” to each other.

Here’s why: If your car is equipped with V2V and you are following behind a car without it, you must still be alert. You might be lucky and have forward collision warning, but if not, and the driver ahead hits the brakes, your V2V won’t receive a message and consequently fail to provide a warning as quickly as it would’ve had the first car been equipped with V2V technology.

However, if both cars are equipped with V2V, your car will sense the other driver braking in real time, giving you a warning to slow down. The more cars with V2V mean more informational exchanges and heightened driver awareness.

Although the NHTSA hasn’t yet issued a mandate for V2V technology in all new cars, it plans to release a report for public feedback. The report will cover issues such as cost, technical feasibility, and security and privacy. From there the NHTSA will begin working on a regulatory proposal.

The timetable for widespread implementation will be based on “comments we receive on our research report and additional information we receive as we pursue a regulation,” the DOT said.

If the administration does move forward with a formal V2V mandate, we could see cars equipped with the technology coming off the production line as early as 2019.

Maybe we aren’t so far from the flying cars after all.

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