Cars Talking to Each Other Will Save Lives, the Feds Say

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Feb 06, 2014

Should your car be able to talk to other cars, throwing out data about location, speed and direction? You bet. It’s key to enabling self-driving vehicles, and for the latest crash-avoidance and other safety tech.
 In a perfect world, all cars will be able to talk to each other. It's a necessary step for self-driving cars. (U.S. DOT photo)It’s called V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Your car is essentially saying, “Here I am, I’m coming your way so don’t hit me.” And in a world where nobody’s behind the wheel, that’s going to be a key part of getting around. Already a lot of cars have advanced systems that take over to keep you in your lane, or even steer you around obstacles, and V2V makes that much easier.
That’s why the federal safety agency, NHTSA, said Monday that it is “taking steps” to require V2V (with 300-yard range) in cars and trucks. It’s the first step in a long process—it starts with a proposed rule, and any mandates likely won’t take effect until the next President is in the White House. According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, "By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the U.S. remains the leader in the global automotive industry."
 Mandatory V2V will act as a driver warning system. (U.S. DOT photo)The automakers are figuring out how to react to this. “It is hard for us to give a yea or nay for something so far out,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “We are allergic to mandates, so we don’t support them. Still, cars that can warn each other of roadway hazards promise safety gains, and many automakers are engaged in pursuing this technology.”
The requirements are going to be pretty mild—just the ability to transmit basic data and receive it from other cars. Nobody’s talking about mandating advanced automatic safety systems. The vehicle won’t take over; it’s more like a driver warning system (buzzers and lights) when there’s a potential problem ahead.
Since 2012, NHTSA has been testing V2V in an Ann Arbor, Michigan field trial involving almost 3,000 cars. The agency says the technology can help avoid or reduce the effects of 70 to 80 percent of crashes involving non-inebriated drivers. Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman says it’s “game changing.”
 Keeping track of trucks is a big part of V2V's safety advantage. (U.S. DOT photo)We can all see where it’s going, though. If all (or, at least, most) of the cars on the road are V2V-equipped, a self-driving car will be hugely safer. There will have to be fairly big on-board computers, but basically your vehicle will know where everybody else is, what they’re doing, and how fast (and in what direction) they’re doing it.
Frankly, autonomous motoring isn’t happening without universal V2V. And V2V is now a whole lot closer. Here's a video look at the V2V state of the art via Ford:

Get the Car Talk Newsletter