The Technology that Could End Car Crashes
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By Julie Halpert,
The Fiscal Times
August 21, 2012

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the largest road test of technologies that allow cars to communicate with each other — and with traffic systems — today in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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The University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute will oversee the one-year project called the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot. It’s the first test bed of the technology and involves nearly 3,000 cars and highway infrastructure equipment that’s equipped with radios. The goal is to allow cars and traffic signals to "talk" to one another, warning them of potential dangers, thus avoiding crashes and improving traffic congestion.

"Who would have ever thought a vehicle could talk to another vehicle?" LaHood said at the media event, adding this next generation of safety technology offers "real promise" for making roads safer and could prevent or reduce up to 80 percent of crashes involving non-impaired drivers.

The Model Deployment is a $25-million pilot effort with approximately 80 percent of the funding provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation. After the initial testing, roughly 500 drivers have volunteered to have their vehicles equipped with the technology and will test it in real life scenarios.

The installation of equipment in these cars will allow DOT to closely monitor driver behavior to determine if crashes are being averted. For example, if a driver is texting behind the wheel, altering his driving behavior, the system could warn a driver about to crash into that person's vehicle, avoiding a potential collision. DOT will evaluate the real world data to determine if the technologies should be applied on a broad scale.

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In 2009, DOT started its vision for this program with a five-year plan, envisioning a suite of wireless technologies that provide communication between vehicles and highway transportation systems. The government has been working cooperatively with eight major car companies to develop the systems (Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen). 

LaHood attempted to dodge a sticky issue that was raised during the press conference, when a reporter asked whether these safety technologies could allow distracted drivers to be even less attentive. With a chuckle, he didn't answer and asked for the next question.