That autonomous cars will be available over the next few decades doesn't come as much of a surprise. They will, however, be largely optional for the time being--so you won't be forced to let a computer drive that fancy new sports car you always promised yourself. Cars that prevent crashes may become mandatory though, if regulators at the Department of Transport have their way.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently working on a plan to fit all new cars with vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology (V2V) to cut traffic congestion and more importantly, reduce the risk of accidents. The ruling for mandatory V2V may arrive as soon as 2017, says Reuters--though according to Forbes, it would be around 2019 before the technology became standard fitment in new vehicles.

It would then take another decade for the majority of cars on the road to feature communications technology, so this is very much a long-term plan for drivers--a plan that NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman says is "nothing short of revolutionary for roadway safety". Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that V2V technology has the potential to help drivers avoid 70 to 80 percent of crashes that involve unimpaired drivers.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology allows cars on the road to trade basic data with others in the surrounding area, using a dedicated short range radio network. This data includes vehicle positioning, speed, whether a car is signaling and so-on, and new data is sent and received ten times per second.

Because other vehicles in the area know what their counterparts are doing before an unsighted or unaware driver might, they can predict whether the driver is at risk of an accident. Picture an intersection where one vehicle is traveling too quickly to stop as others turn across its path, or something as simple as a lane change when another vehicle has moved into a previously open space. In each situation, and more, vehicles would already know whether an accident is possible and take steps to mitigate its severity, or even prevent it altogether. What it would not do is trade any personal details of the vehicle or driver, so safety, rather than unlimited sharing of information, is its primary goal.

A few years back, Volvo listed several situations where V2V could prove useful. The Swedish automaker has been working on such systems for several years, as well as fully autonomous technology. Potential benefits of V2V include emergency vehicle warnings, road works warning, communication with slow or broken-down vehicles, prior notice of traffic jams and even weather data from cars further up the road. If communication is extended to infrastructure (V2I), it can also provide data on traffic signals and more. With 33,000 people killed and 2.3 million injured on American roads every year, the need for V2V and V2I tech is very clear to see--and could reduce those incidents by as much as 80 percent.


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