Feds are targeting high-tech car safety

Left-turn warnings on drawing board

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WASHINGTON — For years, trans­por­ta­tion wonks have been wait­ing for au­to­mated tech­nol­o­gies that will make cars safer and eas­ier to use, cut­ting down on traf­fic jams and low­er­ing the risk of deadly crashes. Now we’re one step closer to that fu­ture: The Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion has un­veiled a plan to re­quire ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­o­gies in all new pas­sen­ger cars.

Adopt­ing these tech­nol­o­gies, the agency says, could pre­vent nearly 600,000 car crashes ev­ery year once the roll­out is com­plete.

Ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle com­mu­ni­ca­tions al­low cars to talk to one an­other, re­lay­ing in­for­ma­tion like speed, po­si­tion and tra­jec­tory. This means that when you’re ap­proach­ing an in­ter­sec­tion and there’s on­com­ing traf­fic, ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle (V2V) tech­nol­o­gies could judge when it’s safe to turn left.

Most driv­ers prob­a­bly feel as though they don’t need this help. In the vast ma­jor­ity of cases, turn­ing left might seem to be a non-prob­lem. But con­sider the out­lier cases where warn­ings against turn­ing left too soon would be im­mensely help­ful. Un­safe left turns ac­count for more than 7 per­cent of all car col­li­sions.

That’s just one of a num­ber of sce­nar­ios that NHTSA is float­ing in a mas­sive, 300-page re­port out this week ac­com­pa­ny­ing its plan.

V2V tech­nol­o­gies prom­ise to help keep driv­ers in the loop. Test­ing is al­ready well un­der­way; in ad­di­tion to what en­gi­neers are call­ing left-turn as­sist, or LTA, high­way reg­u­la­tors are also con­fi­dent about a hand­ful of other warn­ing tech­nol­o­gies. For in­stance, reg­u­la­tors may re­quire that your car tell you when some­one else is brak­ing hard up ahead. You may not be able to see that per­son, but thanks to your car’s wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tions with oth­ers, you’ll be able to avoid a multi-car fender bender. Other po­ten­tial fea­tures are de­signed to help keep cars from en­ter­ing oc­cu­pied lanes, or to pre­vent un­safe pass­ing.

Some of these tech­nol­o­gies have lim­ita­tions. In the case of the left-turn as­sist, even the most so­phis­ti­cated com­puter isn’t ca­pa­ble of pre­dict­ing when a driver wants to turn with­out the aid of a turn sig­nal. Studies show around a quar­ter of driv­ers don’t use turn sig­nals at all. But this prob­lem could be ad­dressed by an­other emerg­ing field, known as ve­hi­cle-to-in­fra­struc­ture, or V2I, com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Sen­sors em­bed­ded in left-turn lanes or in the traf­fic sig­nal could help co­or­di­nate things fur­ther.

For­mal V2V rules won’t be re­leased un­til 2016 at the ear­li­est, when the agency is ex­pected to pub­lish a set of con­crete pro­pos­als. But by talk­ing about what is and isn’t pos­si­ble a few years ahead of time, NHTSA is ef­fec­tively tell­ing re­search­ers and other reg­u­la­tors that they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.

United States government - U.S. Department of Transportation


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