The Future of Car Safety

The Transportation Department—and a Whole Host of Supporters—Are Looking Toward a Future Where All Cars Talk to One Another

yellow cab

How better to prepare for the ambiguous future than with a specific plan in mind now? Automotive technology is changing at light-speed, and though we may not know where exactly self-driving car tech is headed, or precisely how cars will change, we do know that the tech we have access to will be seriously helpful in making driving more safe. This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced what could become life-and-business-changing legislation someday, but is, for now, only a plan: The DOT wants to support comprehensive research on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, with the eventual goal of requiring V2V communication be installed in all cars and trucks, across the entire country. The future of car safety, perhaps to no one’s surprise, is connectivity.

How Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication Could Help

The press release explains that, based on research the DOT has already been supporting, this kind of communication could prevent a huge number of accidents: “Two safety applications—Left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMA)—could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives per year. Put another way, V2V technology could help drivers avoid more than half of these types of crashes that would otherwise occur by providing advance warning,” The DOT explained in its release. The tech works this way: The LTA warns drivers, via a sound and warning graphic on their rear-view mirror, not to enter an intersection if there’s another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. The IMA does the same if there is a high probability of your car colliding with another should you advance into an intersection. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and DOT have been working together in efforts to advance V2V tech, and early results like this are promising.

Imagine if they could chat?
Imagine if they could chat?

The New York Times explains that a pilot program in Ann Arbor, Michigan first recruited more than 3,000 volunteers and was extended from a one-year experiment to a three-year program, with success that’s worth talking about: “The goal was to have a critical mass of networked vehicles in the test so that detailed data could be gathered about how, or if, the interactive systems were working,” writes Aaron M. Kessler. “Drivers come in every few weeks to download data from hard drives stored in the trunk.”

It appears that critical mass has been reached: “The experiment was meant to last a year, but it has been expanded to a three-year program that could soon incorporate about 9,000 local participants, including, for the first time, pedestrians carrying tiny transmitters,” Kessler reports. It is from this early testing that the DOT was able to make its predictions about the number of lives saved by such tech.

USA Today explained the mechanics behind the technology this way:

“The technology uses a radio signal to continually transmit a vehicle’s position, heading, speed and other information. Similarly equipped cars and trucks would receive the same information, and their computers would alert drivers to an impending collision.

A car would “see” when another car or truck equipped with the same technology was about to run a red light, even if that vehicle were hidden around a corner. A car would also know when a car several vehicles ahead in a line of traffic had made a sudden stop and alert the driver even before the brake lights of the vehicle directly in front illuminate. The technology works up to about 300 yards (275 meters) away.”

Imagine if the road could tell you there was black ice ahead.

But the technology also goes beyond just cars talking. Eventually, roads will be able to communicate, transmitting information about weather conditions, for example. Traffic lights might get it on the party, as well. The coolest feature we read about? Your car could someday give you an estimate of the exact speed to drive at in order to coast through all green lights. This would help with both congestion and fuel efficiency, The New York Times explains. Though these efforts are still relatively new, we’re hopeful for the future of talkative, connected traffic—and its staggering safety implications.