DOT clears the road for smart cars

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems that advocates say will reduce the number of auto accidents in the U.S.

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxLyft confidentially files for IPO Hillicon Valley: Exclusive: Audit cleared Google's privacy practices despite security flaw | US weapon systems vulnerable to cyber attacks | Russian troll farm victim of arson attack | US telecom company finds 'manipulated' hardware Lyft taps former Obama administration official to lead its policy team MORE announced the decision on Monday, saying that allowing vehicles to become more connected was a safety jump in line with the introduction of the seat belts or air bags generations ago.

"Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we've already seen with safety belts and air bags," Foxx said in a statement. "By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the U.S. remains the leader in the global automotive industry."

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The DOT has been testing cars with vehicle-to-vehicle technology since August 2012.

Acting National Highway and Traffic Safety Administrator David Friedman said the tests proved that allowing vehicles to communication with each other would drastically improve the safety of driving.

"V2V crash avoidance technology has game-changing potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on our nation's roads," Friedman said in a statement. "Decades from now, it's likely we'll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of standards for seat belts, airbags, and electronic stability control technology."

Smart transportation advocates cheered the DOT’s decision on Monday.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the U.S., with approximately 33,000 people killed and 2.3 million injured each year on America’s roads,” Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) President Scott Belcher said in a statement. “While the auto industry has made great strides to reduce fatalities and injuries after a crash, the next giant leap is to enable real-time communication between vehicles and with the world around them so crashes can be avoided in the first place.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Association of Global Automakers said they were also on board with the deployment of vehicle-to-vehicle technology, but they cautioned that other devices could interfere with the systems if they are allowed to operate too openly.

“Through the auto industry’s research partnership with NHTSA, we’ve already seen the promise connected car technology holds to significantly reduce automobile crash fatalities and injuries,” the global automakers' President Michael Stanton said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with NHTSA and other stakeholders to ensure V2V technology becomes successful in the marketplace.

The automakers alliance said the Federal Communications Commission was currently considering allowing vehicle-to-vehicle technologies to operate on the same frequency band as “unlicensed Wi-Fi devices.”

Stanton said that could cause unforeseen problems for drivers. 

“We’re concerned that opening up the 5.9 GHz frequency band to other wireless users could cause harmful interference and affect the integrity of the V2V safety communications,” Stanton said. “Communication delays of even thousandths of a single second matter when dealing with auto and highway safety. That’s why we are working with the Wi-Fi industry to find out if this spectrum can safely be shared.”