Car-to-Car Communication: Preventing Car Crashes Rather Than Surviving Them

Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them. –Albert Einstein

The federal government is making moves to require automakers to equip new vehicles with technology that allows cars to communicate with each other on the road. The Obama administration is now in the process of studying and testing car-to-car communication with high hopes that it will reduce the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities on U.S roadways. It is estimated that this technology could prevent up to 80% of all accidents that don’t involve drunk drivers and mechanical malfunctions.

Officials admit that the Obama administration will attempt to release the report of their test study by March and then soon begin developing the regulatory proposals. They really want to issue something before Obama’s presidential term is up as they see this as an exciting new technology which could potentially save countless lives.

What is Car-to-Car Communication

In short, car-to-car communication is a system that uses radio signals to transmit information about a vehicle to every other vehicle within a certain range. This transmission is continual and between all cars that are enabled for car-to-car communication. The information is transmitted 10 times per second, and informs other vehicles of your vehicles exact position, the direction it is heading, the speed it is heading, and other important factors. This would allow an onboard computer to warn drivers of an impending collision. Some systems would even allow for brake assistance, which in a different form is already available on a few vehicles.      

This has auto manufacturers excited for one very clear reason. Engineers will no longer have to solely concentrate on how to increase the chance of surviving an auto accident, and rather they can begin working on how to prevent them. The most exciting part is that this technology costs roughly $200 to include into new vehicles. An extremely low cost when you imagine the potential lives saved every year.

Roughly 40,000 people die every year due to auto accidents in the U.S. If this technology could indeed reduce the number of all accidents by 80%, then that means around 32,000 lives could be saved every year. That’s not even accounting for the total of 6 million auto accidents that occur every year. Again which means 4.8 million auto accidents may be avoided. That translates into a lot of money saved on repairs, reduced auto insurance premiums, and fewer injuries sustained resulting in fewer medical expenses.

In the end, it is clearly worth the $200 investment. Experts agree that once 7-10% of the vehicles in a given region are equipped with car-to-car communication, the safety benefits should become apparent. Though, it will certainly take up to 15 years or more for half the vehicles on U.S roadways to be equipped with this technology. This makes the implementation of this technology a rather long and slow process, which means its true benefits won’t be fully felt for years to come.    

Let’s Not Forget About the Skeptics  

As you would imagine, there are also many people who are worried over the implementation of car-to-car communication technology, especially if it becomes mandatory in all new vehicles rather than an additional option. For starters, the biggest concern is over privacy. The concern is knowing exactly what is going to be transmitted. What other information may be sent or found out? Your name is obviously associated with your vehicle, so does that mean other drivers can find out who just cut them off or flipped them the bird? This makes security another big issue. This is especially true with the advent of the so called “car-hacker.” With smart vehicles comes smart criminals, and how is this technology going to protect consumers?

Affordability for this technology is thankfully less of a worry. When considering the total cost of any new vehicle, an additional $200 doesn’t make a large difference overall. But consumer acceptance is probably the one factor that has not been fully considered. Do people want this, or is it being forced upon the public to purchase? No doubt people want to be safer while driving, but in America, we always need to take extra care and caution when forcing anything upon the public. No doubt the same argument stood for seat belts when those were first proposed as mandatory, but the point is still valid.

What of the laws and regulations that will no doubt be created and implemented around the use of this technology? What if the vehicle automatically brakes and causes an accident, who is at fault, the driver or the device manufacturer? What if the system alerts you of an accident when there really isn’t one? Perhaps you jerk out of the way and cause yourself to crash as a result.

This is not to mention that in order for car-to-car communication to properly function, the “network effect” must be in place, which means a great number of cars must have this technology in place. For example, if 10% of cars in a region need to have this equipped to notice beneficial results, and Illinois has 10 million cars on its roadways, then Illinois needs at least 1 million vehicles to have car-to-car communication systems before its benefits can be known. That’s a lot of cars, and a long time before they would be useful. In the meantime, what is your $200 investment going towards? Really, it would be a sunk cost with no benefit to be known, and how do you force people to purchase something now that won’t really be useful for another 5-15 years?

Overall I would argue that car-to-car communication is going to be extremely useful, especially when used in conjunction with autonomous vehicles. When a vehicle can drive itself and communicate with other vehicles on the road around them, it would seem the future is surely nigh. Accidents would be rare, and costs across the board would be reduced. Everything from repairs and insurance, to gas and medical bills would decrease, and even the number of automotive related lawsuits would be reduced. Overall, driving would be made easier, more efficient, and safer. Granted the fun will have been taken out of it. But enjoyment could then be had in other ways, such as reading a book on your way to work, or napping, or eating. Either way, this technology is seemingly pointing towards a bright future for transportation, and one which I thoroughly could not be more excited for.    

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The author of this piece is Damien Wilhelmi and writer for AAMCOColorado.com. If you enjoyed this article you can follow me on Twitter @AAMCOColorado. When I’m not writing about future car tech, I can be found playing around with my cars engine, making repairs and improvements however and whenever I can.