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Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Tech Will Be Mandatory, say Feds

U.S. road safety agency promises vehicle to vehicle communication rules for new cars

2 min read
Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Tech Will Be Mandatory, say Feds
Illustration: U.S. Department of Transportation

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) will soon propose rules for vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communications on U.S. roads, it announced yesterday. The agency is now finalizing a report on a 2012 trial with almost 3000 cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and will follow that report with draft rules that would "require V2V devices in new vehicles in a future year."

A car changing lanes, for example, might get a warning from its V2V system that another car is fast approaching in the driver's blind spot. NHTSA, which has been researching V2V since 2002, claims that such systems could prevent three quarters of road crashes. A public-private partnership in Europe has been testing V2V technologies since 2008, IEEE Spectrum reported at the time.

As envisioned by NHTSA, vehicles equipped with V2V would send position and speed data to one another ten times per second over an ad hoc wireless network. Onboard computers could then calculate whether nearby vehicles are a threat and alert drivers. Future protocols might incorporate information from the sort of onboard sensors that are growing more popular among carmakers, creating a road-spanning network of sensors and alerting cars to problems up or down the road. That kind of data ubiquity would help drivers avoid one another, and is a step toward more autonomy for self-driving cars.

As usual, there are tradeoffs. The agency wrote that V2V data would not identify vehicles, but added that, "vehicles would be identifiable through defined procedures only if there is a need to fix a safety problem" without defining those procedures. That implies that some sort of identifying information is in the system.

Drivers might as well accept that modern vehicles are no more capable of protecting their personal information, including location, than are mobile phones, as a Ford executive's comments made clear last month. The NHTSA also notes on its V2V website that, "Anonymous data from connected vehicles will be open to the public and can be used for a myriad of new safety, mobility and environmental applications." The paranoid will not take comfort in that: computer scientists have shown again and again that identifying individuals from anonymized data is easy.

David Friedman, the NHTSA's acting administrator, put a positive spin on his announcement, writing that future generations will remember this as the moment that, "the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better." Not the smoothest of people to people communications, but then again, this is about cars.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

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A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
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EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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