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Why Can't the Government Run Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications?

Washington can't get cars to talk to each other because it hasn't got the funding

2 min read
Why Can't the Government Run Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications?
Illustration: Harry Campbell

Government, at one level or another, oversees every transportation issue you can think of: air-traffic control, maritime traffic, road signage, even pothole filling. Why can't it also run vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, a feature the feds recently mandated for future cars? 

Because the U.S. Department of Transportation is strapped. Short. Hard up. Penurious. Distressed. Embarrassed. Stony-broke. On the rocks. Most glaringly, the department's Highway Trust Fund is teetering on insolvency

A couple of hundred pages into its report last week that sang the praises of a car-connected world (like preventing 500,000 crashes a year and a lot of traffic jams), the department noted that "arguably" the federal government should run that world directly or through contractors. However, it continues, "DoT research to date has not fully explored a public governance model...Due to the current fiscal environment it does not seem plausible."

Just saying cars must talk to one another by a given date won't get it done. Somebody has to set standards, oversee implementation, and maintain the system. The department estimates that annual maintenance cost at $60 million, which it says could be covered by adding a fee of $3 onto the sales price of each new car.  

Of course, the main cost for buyers will be equipment such as sensors and communications channels. That could come to as much as $350 per car by 2020, the DoT estimates. And carmakers are worried that they may find themselves liable for the injuries the V2V system may cause. Every safety system, even airbags, sometimes has unintended consequences, and a jury may not care that the system causes far fewer injuries than it prevents.

These are the sorts of problems that Uncle Sam used to solve with a big sweep of his arm. But that was in the days when government administration was in the hands of experts who worked toward a relatively small number of well-defined goals—like digging canals or putting a man on the moon—and could do so with little Congressional interference and plenty of public support. Those days are gone, the political philosopher Francis Fukuyama argues in a recent, much-discussed essay.  Fukuyama bases his case on the U.S. Forest Service. He might just as well have chosen the highway system.

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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

11 min read
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
Green

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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