Department of Transportation Proposes Rule Requiring Cars to Talk to Each Other and to Infrastructure
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Department of Transportation Proposes Rule Requiring Cars to Talk to Each Other and to Infrastructure

The wireless technology may drastically reduce traffic-related deaths

December 13, 2016

A new rule proposed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) would require all new cars and light trucks to be capable of communicating wirelessly to each other as well as to traffic lights and other roadway infrastructure.

Officials believe, says WRAL, that such technology may drastically reduce the number of traffic deaths and potentially transform driving.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) enable vehicles to send out their location, speed, direction, and other data ten times per second. This would allow cars, for instance, to detect when another vehicle is about to run a red light, is braking particularly hard, is changing to another lane, or is coming around a blind turn in time for either the driver or an automated safety system to prevent an accident.

Officials said that V2V technology could possibly either prevent or mitigate the severity of up to 80 percent of collisions in which neither alcohol nor drugs played a role.

"V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "We are carrying the ball as far as we can to realize the potential of transportation technology to save lives."

The government and auto manufacturers have been collaborating on developing technology for more than 10 years. Under the rule proposed by the DOT, V2V systems would have to "speak the same language" via standardized messaging developed by the industry and the government.

The Federal Highway Administration intends to issue guidance separately in order to assist transportation planners in integrating two-way wireless technology into roadway infrastructures like traffic lights, stop signs, and work zones. Vehicles could tell infrastructure about road conditions, and the same information could then be provided to other vehicles as they come along. Traffic lights would know when it would be best to remain green so that drivers could avoid unnecessary waiting and congestion could be reduced.

The proposal has a comment period of 90 days, and officials expect it to be roughly one year before a final rule is issued.

The proposal wants 50 percent of new vehicles to include the technology within a period of two years after the issue of a final rule and 100 percent within four years. However, because V2V technology can prevent a collision only among vehicles that include it, it would still take years—possibly even decades—for the technology's full potential to be realized.

It takes decades for an entire fleet to turn over. However, the process of spreading the technology throughout the fleet might go more quickly if devices are created enabling drivers to add V2V to older vehicles, as is expected to occur.

Some carmakers are not waiting for the final rule to integrate V2V into their vehicles. General Motors has mentioned its plans to include it in some 2017 Cadillacs, and the 2017 Mercedes E-Class sedans also come equipped with it.

V2V can reach roughly 1,000 yards in all directions as of this time, even when buildings and other obstacles are in the way. This provides the advantage of possibly detecting a potential collision before the driver can see the threat—unlike the sensors and cameras installed in self-driving vehicles that sense only their immediate surroundings.

Officials from both industry and government view the technologies as complementary despite their limitations. It may well turn out that self-driving vehicles with V2V installed may be the best solution to traffic congestion because of their capability of synchronizing their movements so as to merge smoothly and travel safety in caravans that are long and closely packed at high speeds. This would improve the flow of traffic and increase highway capacity.

The DOT's proposal also addresses the issue of cybersecurity, requiring V2V to use a security level of at least 128-bit encryption and to comply with National Institute of Standards and Technology benchmarks.

In order to protect driver privacy, V2V messages are anonymous, containing no information about the driver, the owner of the vehicle, the vehicle make or model, the vehicle identification number, or the license plate. The messages are also short and not stored, so it is impossible to use them to figure out where a vehicle has been or to try to find one specific vehicle out of many on the road, according to engineer Debra Bezzina, who works at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute.

One obstacle in the path of V2V is preserving its exclusive right to use the 5.9 Ghz radio spectrum specifically set aside by Congress years ago for this technology. Since that time, the rapid increase in the number of wireless devices available as well as the escalating demand for faster and faster Wi-Fi has resulted in pressure from technology companies wanting permission to use that particular spectrum.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently in Phase One of a three-phase testing program trying to determine whether or not sharing the spectrum with Wi-Fi would interfere with V2V signals.

According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, sharing the spectrum should be allowed "only if it can be proven that no harmful interference occurs. Any interference could result in a crash, or even worse, an injury or fatality."