Vehicle-to-vehicle networks could save over 1,000 lives a year, US says

The federal highway-safety agency wants wireless systems to warn drivers before they crash

The U.S. government wants to force cars to talk to each other over wireless networks, saying that could save more than 1,000 lives every year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking input about a possible federal standard for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, which would let cars automatically exchange information, such as whether they're close to each other. The agency will accept comments from the public and industry for 60 days from when the advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) is published in the Federal Register.

V2V would let cars do some of the work of driving or even accomplish things humans can't, such as virtually "seeing" into blind intersections before entering them. It may be one step on the path to self-driving cars.

On Monday, the NHTSA published a research report on V2V and issued an ANPRM in hopes of collecting a lot of feedback before issuing a full NPRM in 2016. In the report, it estimated the safety benefits of just two possible applications of V2V, called Left Turn Assist and Intersection Movement Assist. Together, they could prevent as many as 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives per year, the agency said.

Neither system would necessarily take control of a car. Left Turn Assist would warn drivers not to turn left into the path of an oncoming car, and Intersection Movement Assist would warn them not to enter an intersection when there's a high probability of crashing into other vehicles there. The two technologies could help drivers avoid more than half of those types of crashes, the agency said. Other V2V systems could include blind spot, do not pass, and forward collision warnings, as well as stop light and stop sign warnings.

"V2V technology represents the next great advance in saving lives," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release.

In addition to improving safety, V2V might smooth the flow of traffic and improve cars' fuel economy, the NHTSA said.

V2V would run over wireless networks using the IEEE 802.11p specification, a variant of the standard used for Wi-Fi, on a band of spectrum between 5.85GHz and 5.925GHz. That's crucial to making the technology work between vehicles from different manufacturers, NHTSA said. V2V doesn't identify individual vehicles, nor does it collect or share personal information about drivers, and it would have layers of security and privacy technology to protect users, the agency said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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