There's rarely a time I'm behind the wheel of the car when I didn't wish I could communicate directly with the other drivers around me. If I could simply let the Honda Civic with its taillight blinking know that I'm hanging back to let it merge or remind that Ford F-150 that the lane lines separating us are more than just a helpful suggestion, I think it would alleviate some of my driving anxieties.
Alas, we still live in an age where we can communicate with other drivers only by using signal lights, horns and hand gestures. And of the latter, I find that a single gesture of raising a specific digit into the air is the only effective way get your point across to other motorists. But if the Obama Administration has its way, we're not too far off from a time when our cars will be able to talk to one another to prevent crashes using more advanced forms of communication than that finger gesture I just described.
On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report on vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology. The federal agency contends that V2V technology, in the words of NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman, "has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety."
How? By equipping cars with on-board, dedicated short-range radio communication devices that transmit information to other vehicles about how fast you're going, what direction you're headed, and whether you're slowing down or stopping.
That may sound like some of the driver-assist features in current cars, but those only signal you about nearby danger. V2V technology involves two-way communication over a greater distance--nearly twice the range of current driver warning systems in some instances, according to the NHTSA.
The NHTSA report (which you can read in all its detailed glory in this 327-page PDF) cites two specific scenarios where V2V technology can reduce accidents: warning drivers not to turn left when cars are approach from the opposite direction, and alerting drivers about potential intersection collisions. The report estimates V2V features could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives each year, essentially cutting those types of accidents in half.
There's a cost to this heightened awareness. The NHTSA estimates that adding V2V equipment to cars would cost $341 to $350 per vehicle initially. That cost would drop to $209 to $227 over 30 years as car makers become more adept at producing that equipment. The report cites increased costs for fuel and ($9 to $18 a year), security ($1 to $6 per vehicle), and communications features ($3 to $13 per vehicle) if V2V capabilities became standard.
We're a ways off from my car alerting your car of any trouble ahead. Monday's report was an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking--that's bureaucrat-talk for seeking public comment on any new regulations. The NHTSA won't have an actual proposal until 2016.