Even as the Obama administration approaches its final month, the Department of Transportation is setting into motion a rulemaking effort for connected vehicle technology, which federal regulators said could “avoid or mitigate” 80 percent of the crashes that occur on U.S. highways.
Barring a shift in strategy by President-elect Donald Trump, the auto industry will be required to begin phasing in vehicle-to-vehicle communications, or V2V, systems about three years from now, with the technology required on most cars and trucks two years later.
And though the proposed guidelines do not cover commercial vehicles, they will “add a cornerstone as to what we could do with other modes of transportation…such as trucks,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, said during a Tuesday teleconference.
The proposed guidelines, FMVSS 150, now will be the subject of a 90-day public comment period. Foxx said he expects the rules to be formally locked in place a year later. Such a schedule would mean that at least 50 percent of the light vehicles sold in the U.S. would be equipped with V2V transceivers by the middle of the 2020 model-year. There would be 100 percent compliance by 2022.
V2V systems would, at the minimum, broadcast information about their location, speed and direction. Other vehicles in the vicinity would use that data to determine whether a collision is imminent. In such a case, the driver would be given an alert. If they failed to respond, the technology could trigger the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system or other crash-avoidance technologies. The auto industry has agreed to make automatic emergency braking systems standard in light vehicles starting with the 2022 model year.
“It has been estimated that up to 80 percent of non-impaired collisions could be avoided or mitigated to reduce injuries,” Foxx said.
The auto industry is reviewing the proposed regulation to analyze how it complements other advanced systems that are starting to be included in a growing number of new automobiles, said the Auto Alliance, an industry lobbying representing companies that account for about 77 percent of U.S. auto sales.
Safety groups supported the federal initiative.
“Technology is a game changer when it comes to eliminating preventable deaths on our roadways,” said Deborah Hersman, chief executive of the National Safety Council. “Independent safety systems in vehicles can prevent some collisions, but when coupled with V2V systems, it is like a ‘belt and suspenders' approach to preventing or mitigating the severity of all collisions.”
But others cited objections.
“With more than 35,000 fatalities in motor vehicle crashes last year, we are glad to see the Department of Transportation recognizing the role that safety technologies, such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications, can play in improving road safety,” said David Strickland, general counsel of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, the autonomous vehicle advocacy organization. “Though fully self-driving vehicles do not require this technology to fulfill their safety potential, it is important that current and future light vehicles continue to improve in the area of crash avoidance.”
“It is extremely disappointing to see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration try to push through its highly controversial proposed vehicle-to-vehicle communications mandate in the final weeks of the Obama administration,” said Marc Scribner, research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, non-profit libertarian think tank
Scribner said the mandate represents “a large misallocation of resources away from more promising” automated vehicle technology. He said the incoming Trump administration should scuttle the rule.
But Foxx said V2V technology would be “highly complementary” to the autonomous vehicles expected to begin rolling out early in the coming decade.
The mandated technology would dovetail with Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, or V2I, technology that would give vehicles information about the roads, traffic signals and traffic infrastructure where they are driving, he said.
That process would be used, among other things, to alert drivers to weather and traffic conditions. A pilot V2I program was just announced for Clark County, an area that includes Las Vegas. Several new Audi models will be able to alert drivers when traffic lights are about to change from red to green.
The proposed V2V rules call for strict efforts to ensure cybersecurity, including the use of 128-bit encryption, said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And all data, he added, will be “generic,” containing no personal data. But he also said law enforcement agencies may yet seek to have the ability to identify vehicles or receive alerts when drivers break the law.
There are still some technical issues to resolve before V2V systems can be rolled out. The Federal Communications Commission has been under pressure to have the auto industry share the 5.9 gigahertz frequency of the Dedicated Short-Range Communications spectrum with manufacturers of WiFi systems. A study is underway to determine whether spectrum sharing is possible without causing interference to V2V systems.
“It is important that the radio frequency band reserved by the federal government for DSRC remains free from any harmful interference from electronic devices using Wi-Fi. V2V safety messages transmit 10 times per second and any interference could result in a crash, or even worse, an injury or fatality,” the Auto Alliance said.
There also is uncertainty about how the incoming Trump administration will handle the V2V and other proposed rules covering the auto industry. Trump has said he wants to reduce federal regulations. Foxx, however, said he is confident the new V2V standard will move forward. It has been under study for 14 years, he said, and there is already strong support from within the auto industry.
As for adding V2V to trucks, there is no firm timeframe, though both Rosekind and Foxx said that the more vehicles equipped with the technology the more effective it will become. But it will likely be Foxx’s successor who will decide if and when to move forward on expanding the rules to commercial vehicles.