DOT testing ‘connected vehicle’ technologies

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Updated Oct 21, 2011

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday, Oct. 19, received a firsthand look at “connected vehicle” technologies that have the potential to improve safety and help drivers avert crashes as part of a research clinic hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation at Walt Disney World Speedway.

“Thanks to the efforts of automakers and the safety community, traffic fatalities have reached historic lows,” LaHood says. “Despite these great strides, though, more than 32,000 people are still killed on our nation’s roads every year. That’s why we must remain vigilant in our effort to improve safety. This research should bring us a step closer to what could be the next major safety breakthrough.”

Analyses by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show connected vehicle technology potentially could impact about 80 percent of vehicle crash types involving nonimpaired drivers. Specifically, NHTSA research shows these technologies could help prevent a majority of kinds of crashes that typically occur in the real world such as crashes at intersections or while switching lanes.

The four-day “Driver Acceptance Clinic” at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando is part of a six-month program that includes similar research clinics across the nation. The driver clinics are the first phase of a two-part research program jointly developed by NHTSA and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration in coordination with other DOT agencies.

“With its potential to save lives and prevent injuries, connected vehicle technology could be a real game-changer for vehicle safety,” says NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “These clinics are vital to understanding how drivers will respond to the technology and how connected vehicles communicate in real world scenarios.”

The driver clinics are designed to evaluate cars equipped with “vehicle-to-vehicle” communications systems in a controlled environment where researchers can observe the drivers’ responses. The technologies being tested include in-car collision warnings, “do not pass” alerts, warnings that a vehicle ahead has stopped suddenly, and other similar safety messages.

“The past several decades of auto safety have been dedicated to surviving crashes, but the future will be about avoiding crashes,” says RITA Acting Administrator Greg Winfree. “That is what connected vehicles are all about.”

Driver clinics already have been held in Michigan and Minnesota, and future clinics are planned for Virginia, California and Texas and are expected to conclude by January 2012. Following the clinic program, DOT will launch the second part of the safety pilot with a model deployment that will use about 3,000 vehicles to test connected vehicle technology further in a yearlong effort from summer 2012 through summer 2013. The model deployment will operate on roads in Ann Arbor, Mich., and test a limited number of vehicle-to-infrastructure applications in addition to continuing the research on vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems.

Eight major automotive manufacturers are providing support for DOT’s research through partnering agreements: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Honda R&D Americas Inc., Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center Inc., Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America Inc., Nissan Technical Center North America Inc., Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. and Volkswagen Group of America.

The information collected from both phases of the safety pilot will be used by NHTSA to determine by 2013 whether to proceed with additional vehicle-to-vehicle communication activities, including possible future rulemakings.