U.S. may mandate 'talking' cars by early 2017

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 4, 2014 3:48am IST

A model stands next to a car at the Audi booth at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Files

A model stands next to a car at the Audi booth at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, November 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are crafting a rule that would require all new vehicles to be able to "talk" to one another using wireless technology, which the Department of Transportation said would significantly reduce accidents on U.S. roads and alleviate traffic congestion.

A proposed rule mandating so-called vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology should be put in place before President Barack Obama leaves office in early 2017, DOT officials said on Monday.

"When these technologies are adapted across the fleet, the results could be nothing short of revolutionary for roadway safety," said David Friedman, acting administrator of the DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

If a rule is proposed, it would then go through a public comment period that typically lasts about 90 days. The agency would then review the public's comments or concerns before publishing a final rule.

Mandating the use of technology once thought to be science-fiction will "pave the way for market penetration of vehicle-to-vehicle safety applications," the DOT said in a statement.

This "V2V" technology allows cars on the road to trade basic safety data, such as speed and position, at a rate of ten times per second. This exchange of information might help avoid or reduce the severity of 80 percent of crashes that occur when the driver is not impaired, NHTSA said.

"Think of all the everyday situations that this technology could help with; when folks pull up to a four-way stop, driving behind a big truck or an SUV that limits your visibility or even making a lane change and a car moves into your blind spot," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a news conference.

This data does not include personal details about the driver or vehicle, the DOT said. Vehicles or a group of vehicles can be identified through a defined procedure "only if there is a need to fix a safety problem."

The announcement comes as NHTSA finishes its analysis of data gathered during its year-long pilot program of V2V technology in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In that program, U.S. officials and the University of Michigan outfitted nearly 3,000 cars, trucks and buses with wireless devices that tracked other vehicles' speed and location, and alerted drivers to congestion.

Those findings, as well as a preliminary estimate of the costs of this technology, will be published in coming weeks.

An industry trade group aligned with auto manufacturers said it is willing to explore the idea but that a lot of questions remain. "Many pieces of a large puzzle still need to fit together," said Gloria Bergquist, head of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

"What remains to be addressed is security and privacy, along with consumer acceptance, affordability, achieving the critical mass to enable the ‘network effect' and establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework," she said.

"Automakers have invested significantly in safety technology and systems, and we will review today's announcement and engage with NHTSA in next steps."

(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna in Washington and Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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