Vehicle-to-vehicle communication promises to prevent thousands of collisions and injuries annually, DOT and NHTSA believe. (Image downloaded from NHTSA August 2014 report)

Revving Up V2V

Vehicle-to-vehicle technology "represents the next great advance in saving lives," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said.

If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's timetable holds, the agency will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking within the next 14 months to create a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, No. 150, requiring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication capability for new passenger cars and light trucks. NHTSA took comments on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking this year and released a related research report, "Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications: Readiness of V2V Technology for Application."

The report analyzes the research done thus far. In it, NHTSA outlines the results of its initial research and includes a "very preliminary" estimate of the costs of V2V and the benefits for two V2V-based safety applications, Intersection Movement Assist and Left Turn Assist, for addressing intersection crashes and left-turning crashes.

IMA and LTA could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives per year, the report estimates, and it describes additional applications that could also help drivers avoid imminent danger by providing forward collision, blind spot, do not pass, and stoplight/stop sign warnings. The report cites NHTSA's estimate that about 5 million vehicle crashes occur each year and explains both why DOT is enthusiastic about V2V and why this rulemaking is different from other crash avoidance technologies DOT has embraced up to now: Previous technologies, such as electronic stability control, helped vehicles react to imminent crash situations, but V2V technologies will help drivers react ahead of time.

The report discusses technical, legal, security, and privacy issues related to the technology's implementation. The agency intends to mandate V2V technology in all new vehicles but not require specific safety applications, out of the belief this will facilitate market-driven R&D and the introduction of a variety of safety applications.

"Safety is our top priority, and V2V technology represents the next great advance in saving lives," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said. "This technology could move us from helping people survive crashes to helping them avoid crashes altogether–saving lives, saving money, and even saving fuel thanks to the widespread benefits it offers."

A model deployment "was accomplished with relatively few problems given the magnitude of this first-of-its-kind demonstration project," the report's authors stated.

By the time V2V technology has spread throughout the entire U.S. fleet, it will have prevented as many as 728,000 property-damage-only crashes, they reported.

Answering Privacy, Cost, and Liability Concerns
Not that the technologies are perfectly ready. They hold the promise of substantially reducing crashes, injuries, and traffic fatalities, but the authors report some must be better tailored to the safety problems they are meant to solve—they cite Left Turn Assist, which currently triggers only when the driver uses a turn signal, meaning it won't help the many drivers who don’t use a turn signal when in a dedicated turn lane.

The report explains that NHTSA has the legal authority to mandate V2V technology in new light vehicles and even could require its installation in commercial vehicles already on the road.

As for the cost, it says based on preliminary information, NHTSA estimates the V2V equipment and supporting communications functions, including a security management system, would cost only about $341 to $350 per vehicle in 2020 and could fall to $209 to $227 by 2058. These costs include an added $9 to $18 per year in fuel costs caused by the equipment's added weight.

Automakers have expressed concerns that V2V technologies will increase their liability more than other safety technologies, because the warning systems rely on information from other vehicles and communication systems they don't control; the report argues such concerns are unfounded. This is because NHTSA is considering warning technologies, not control technologies, and its legal analysis "indicates that, from a products liability standpoint, V2V safety warning technologies, analytically, are quite similar to on-board safety warnings found in today's motor vehicles."

Privacy concerns also are off the mark because the systems won't collect or store any data that identifies individuals or individual vehicles, nor will they allow the government to do so. "There is no data in the safety messages that could be used by law enforcement or private entities to personally identify a speeding or erratic driver. The system—operated by private entities—will not enable tracking through space and time of vehicles linked to specific owner or drivers. Third parties attempting to use the system to track a vehicle would find it extremely difficult to do so, particularly in light of far simpler and cheaper means available for that purpose," it states.

Eventually, DOT envisions having every vehicle on the road (including trucks, buses, and motorcycles) equipped to communicate with other vehicles. Another DOT agency, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), has predicted that V2V communications "will enable active safety systems that can assist drivers in preventing 76 percent of the crashes on the roadway, thereby reducing fatalities and injuries that occur each year."

Customer Acceptance
At the time the report was written, NHTSA anticipated that private entities will create, fund, and manage the necessary security and communications components to ensure the system operates safely, but private entities had not yet committed to participate.

The safety benefits DOT envisions will materialize only if consumers buy into these new technologies and their benefits. "One potential issue with consumer acceptance is maintenance," the report's executive summary states. "If the security system is designed to require consumers to take action to obtain new security certificates—depending on the mechanism needed to obtain the certificates—consumers may find the required action too onerous. For example, rather than return to the dealership periodically for a download of new certificates, consumers may choose instead to live with non-functioning V2V capabilities. The agency is exploring ways to make such downloads automatic, but more research is needed to understand this issue fully."

Additional issues that will be researched include the development of performance requirements for devices and safety applications, the ability to mitigate V2V communication congestion, incorporating GPS advancements to improve V2V relative positioning, remedies to address false positive warnings from the technologies, the security system, and the key issue of consumer acceptance.

For more information about V2V, visit www.its.dot.gov/research/v2v.htm and www.safercar.gov/v2v/index.html.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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