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'Talking cars' in US safety drive


A side mirror warning signal in a Ford Taurus at a car testing area in the US (AP)

A side mirror warning signal in a Ford Taurus at a car testing area in the US (AP)

A side mirror warning signal in a Ford Taurus at a car testing area in the US (AP)

US officials plan to make carmakers equip new cars and light trucks with technology that lets vehicles communicate with each other in a bid to avoid deadly crashes.

A radio beacon would continually transmit a vehicle's position, heading, speed and other information.

Cars would receive the same information back from other vehicles, and a vehicle's computer would alert the driver to an impending collision. Some systems may automatically brake to avoid an accident if manufacturers choose to include that option.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been working with carmakers on the technology for the past decade, estimates vehicle-to-vehicle communications could prevent up to 80% of accidents that don't involve drunken drivers or mechanical failure.

The technology holds the "game-changing" potential to prevent crashes in the first place, while the government's focus until now has been on ensuring accidents are survivable, David Friedman, the head of the safety administration, said at a news conference.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the Obama administration decided to announce its intention to require the technology in new vehicles in order to "send a strong signal to the (automotive industry) that we believe the wave of the future is vehicle-to-vehicle technology."

However, it will still be a least several years and perhaps longer before manufacturers would have to put the technology in vehicles, officials said.

The safety administration plans to issue a report later this month on the results of its research, and then the public and carmakers will have 90 days to comment. After that, regulators will begin drafting a proposal to require carmakers to equip new vehicles with the technology. That process could take months to years to complete, but Mr Foxx said it is his intention to issue the proposal before President Barack Obama leaves office.

"It will change driving as we know it over time," said Scott Belcher, president and chief executive of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. "Over time, we'll see a reduction in crashes. Automobile makers will rethink how they design and construct cars because they will no longer be constructing cars to survive a crash, but building them to avoid a crash."

Government officials declined to give an estimate for how much the technology would increase the price of a new car, but the transportation society estimate it would cost about 100 to 200 US dollars (£60 to £120) per vehicle.

Carmakers are enthusiastic about vehicle-to-vehicle technology, but feel there are important technical, security and privacy questions that need to be worked out first, said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Vehicle-to-vehicle "may well play a larger role in future road safety, but many pieces of a large puzzle still need to fit together," she said.

The safety benefits can't be achieved until there is a critical mass of cars and trucks on the road using the technology, and it's not clear what that level of market penetration is.

It takes many years to turn over the nation's entire vehicle fleet, but the technology could start preventing accidents long before that. Research indicates safety benefits can be seen with as few at 7% to 10% of vehicles in a given area similarly equipped, said Paul Feenstra, a spokesman for the transportation society.


PA Media