Talking vehicles save lives. Will Trump's team support them?
© Getty Images

Pixar may be a bit ahead of the curve in vehicle technology. As Lightning McQueen, Mater, and other vehicles in the Cars movie franchise talk with one another, in the near future vehicles will actually talk with one another.

Of course, vehicles will not talk with each other about races or relationships. They will instead communicate information regarding traffic conditions, speed, road conditions, and other vehicle actions such as braking. Combining vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communications, with information from sensors in vehicles, and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) communications and driving experiences will radically change in the coming years.

ADVERTISEMENT
Many modern vehicles are equipped with an array of technology. This technology includes the ability to detect if a driver departs from his lane, forward collision detection and automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot detection. Higher-end vehicles, such as Teslas, include low-level autonomous features and the ability to detect stopped traffic by bouncing radar off the road.

 

Imagine how traffic would improve if vehicles could communicate information with other vehicles. This is not to say traffic jams would be eliminated, but drivers may be better able to avoid traffic jams. At the very least, V2V communications should help reduce accidents.

Manufacturers, such as General Motors and Audi, are currently implementing V2V and V2I communication technology. As the technologies advance, and become more affordable, other manufacturers will follow suit. As small cell, or better known as 5G, broadband technology deploys, the communications infrastructure will be in place to better support wireless communications.

While the market will adopt the technology, the federal government has a limited role. With the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration, that role is unclear. On the one hand, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao appears friendly to technology. On the other hand, President Trump signed an executive order stalling regulations.

The impact of this executive order is not completely clear, especially as it relates to a notice of proposed rulemaking the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued in December 2016. The notice indicated NHTSA’s intent to “standardize the message and format of V2V transmissions.”

Manufactures do need to ensure connected vehicles can communicate with one another. If Audis only talked with Audis or Fords only talked with Fords, many of the safety benefits derived from connected vehicles would not be realized. Manufacturers will be motivated to ensure all connected vehicles can communicate with each other. The standards manufacturers reach will not only be commercially practical, they will also have the advantage of flexibility. As technology changes, the manufacturers will modify the standards to reflect advancements.

Regulating technology is very difficult. By the time an agency considers a topic, studies the technology, weighs the costs, and proposes a rule, the subject technology is already outdated. The NHTSA proposal, while beneficial in concept, seems out of place.

While V2V communications, for example, is a great idea, the infrastructure necessary to support the communications is not yet in place. A critical component of the infrastructure, 5G, is still in development, though likely to debut to the public very soon. Similarly, many communities lack the infrastructure necessary to support V2I communications. Communities will need to connect traffic lights and other transportation components to the network. As with the vehicle technology, the ability to connect traffic lights has not quite been perfected.

Other than trying to ensure uniform communication and security standards, the NHTSA proposal notably phases in the technology over a period of about 5 years. This seems ambitious, both given the lack of infrastructure and the fact that manufacturers are just starting to integrate the technology into higher-end cars such as Cadillacs.

NHTSA has studied V2V communications for a number of years. The proposal has its advantages and disadvantages. It seems to be a well-measured approach, capable of garnering support from a number of the impacted stakeholders.

Whether NHTSA’s proposals will be impacted by President Trump’s executive orders relating to new regulations is unclear. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, though, appears to be a friend to technology. While she has not yet spoken directly to V2V or V2I technologies, in statements regarding autonomous vehicles, Secretary Chao indicated the administration was taking a close look at regulations, consulting experts, and would move to ensure the proper environment for growth. At the very least, the pause may provide an opportunity to re-evaluate the proposal in light of where the technology stands today.

Connecting vehicles is a step toward the future. While Mater and Lightning McQueen are fictitious characters, vehicles that talk with one another will drastically improve safety and save lives. The industry, the federal government, and state governments should work together to advance wireless vehicle communications as quickly as possible.

Jonathon Paul Hauenschild, J.D., is a technology policy analyst. He is the founder and principal of Franklin Adams & Co., LLC.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.