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Friday, April 27, 2012

Safety regulator wants to accelerate vehicle-to-vehicle communication

DETROIT – Technology allowing vehicles to communicate with each other on the road could eliminate up to 80 percent of crashes, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland said Thursday in Detroit.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication “really has a tremendous amount of promise to save lives,” Strickland said in a keynote address at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

Strickland said NHTSA is working with automakers and other government agencies to accelerate the introduction of connected-vehicle technology like crash warning systems and lane departure alerts. The results of an ongoing study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which is testing vehicle communication technology, would guide the agency’s next steps.

“The next North Star is keeping the crash from ever happening in the first place,” Strickland said. “We are hard at work from a research standpoint at figuring out the systems that have promise … so that one day we may see deeper penetration in the fleet.”

Strickland, who has pushed for laws and regulations that fight driver distraction, said one of NHTSA’s first moves in reducing driver distraction is ensuring that in-vehicle technology systems that connect to digital devices have “the right interface.” That means they should be easy to use and allow the driver to keep his or her eyes on the road.

Strickland also said:

NHTSA is finalizing a rule to improve rear visibility in passenger vehicles.

Thirty-eight states have adopted bans on texting while driving in part because Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has embraced the “bully pulpit” to convince state governments to outlaw the dangerous activity.

Engineers at NHTSA are “beyond proof of concept” on a system that would prevent vehicles from being operated by a drunken driver and could “be offered as an option on vehicles of the future.”

The agency views the prospect of self-driving cars as “a policy case” that would be addressed “when we actually see that happening.”

Strickland’s comments came a day after Anthony Levandowski, product manager for Google’s driverless car project, suggested in Detroit that autonomous vehicle technology could become a commercial reality within 10 years.

Strickland said, “Automated safety systems have so much promise at so many levels.”