Feds move to require car-to-car safety communication

10:58 AM, Feb 6, 2014   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY/Detriot Free Press) - Obama administration officials said today that they are completing an analysis of testing of technology that lets vehicles communicate with each other and will propose requiring automakers to equip new cars and light trucks.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the technology holds the potential to cut U.S. crashes, injuries and deaths on the nation's streets and highways. His department estimates it could prevent up to 80% of accidents that don't involve drunken drivers or mechanical failure.

Officials said the government will issue a report this month on the systems, then "begin working on a regulatory proposal" that will be issued before the end of the Obama administration.

The systems use radio signals to continually transmit a vehicle's position, heading, speed and other information 10 times per second, and it would receive the same data from other vehicles. The vehicle's computer would alert the driver to an impending collision, and some systems could automatically brake.

"It will change driving as we know it over time," said Scott Belcher, CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. "We'll see a reduction in crashes. Automobile makers will rethink how they design and construct cars, because they will no longer be constructing cars to survive a crash, but building them to avoid a crash."

The group says the technology would add about $100 to $200 to the cost of a new car.

The full benefits would await a critical mass of cars and trucks on the road using the technology, and it's not clear what that level would be. It takes many years to turn over the nation's entire vehicle fleet, but research indicates that safety benefits would be seen with as few as 7% to 10% of the vehicles in a given area equipped with the technology, said Paul Feenstra, a spokesman for the society, an umbrella group for development of new transportation technologies.

Spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said automakers "have invested significantly in safety technology and systems, and we will review today's announcement and engage with NHTSA in (the) next steps."

Said Bergquist, "What remains to be addressed is security and privacy, along with consumer acceptance, affordability, achieving the critical mass to enable the 'network effect' and establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework. In light of today's announcement, the FCC should maintain the (radio) spectrum for safety-critical auto systems until thorough testing is complete."

Once automakers start adding the technology to all new cars, it would take 15 years or more for half the cars on the nation's roads to be equipped, according to communications technology company Qualcomm. There are about 5 million to 6 million new cars sold each year.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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