Opinion

Column | Safer driving through technology

The United States could be on the cusp of a great leap forward in automotive safety. All that’s required is for the auto industry to rally behind the scientists and engineers who have spent the past decade developing a wireless technology called V2X. This catch-all term refers to two closely related systems: vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.

President Barack Obama got a look at V2X in July when he visited a Federal Highway Administration research center in McLean, Va. In a driving simulator, he saw how V2X transmitters let cars talk to the world around them and warn drivers of trouble ahead — giving them precious time to react if, for example, an oncoming vehicle appears to be about to run a red light or another is coming around a blind corner. This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. It’s engineering reality. And we’re ready to move it from the lab to the nation’s roads.

The potential benefits are huge. According to the Transportation Department, early studies of the potential of V2V alone suggest that the technology could help drivers avoid 70 percent to 80 percent of crashes involving unimpaired drivers, which would sharply reduce roughly $870 billion in crash-related costs generated every year. In Washington, D.C., alone, more than 18,000 crashes could be mitigated or avoided altogether.

Less than a month after the president’s visit, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the start of a rule-making process that could make the technology standard equipment on new cars and trucks. The agency called V2X a game-changer, and it was right, especially for the individuals and families who are the faces behind the statistics. However, the rule-making journey could take years even if things go smoothly, and an industrywide rollout could take years after that. We need to move faster.

The safety improvements that can be achieved by deploying V2X are so convincing that the auto industry should act on its own to accelerate the work that needs to be done, including setting standards for security and interoperability and announcing launch plans.

Cadillac will take the first step on behalf of General Motors. Last month at the Intelligent Transportation World Congress in Detroit, I announced that the 2017 Cadillac CTS would be the first GM vehicle to carry V2X technology. It could be the first for the entire U.S. industry.

But all of us need to do our part to build a critical mass of V2V-equipped vehicles on the road on a much more accelerated timetable than regulation alone will drive. Speedy collaboration is the key to a successful rollout. We don’t want Cadillacs to be islands unto themselves.

Equipping our highways with sensors, cameras and other technologies that can communicate with these networked cars is the next logical step. Congress should help pave the way for V2I by including funding in the next transportation bill for more research on strategies to develop and pay for the associated infrastructure improvements.

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