Talking Cars for Ann Arbor

August, 2012 – In an effort to try and reduce the number of car accidents on the road, manufacturers are testing out a novel new idea: having cars talk to each other.

The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, will have 2,800 vehicles enabled with wireless transmitters that will send signals between them, the Associated Press reports, which will warn the drivers of potential dangers on the road. Knowing that traffic is stopped up ahead or that a car has sped through a red light up ahead could mean the difference between life and death for drivers and passengers.

Nearly 500 vehicles on the roads of Ann Arbor are already equipped with the technology, which uses a device that communicates similar to the way Wi-Fi signals are transmitted. The device will warn drivers if they risk crashing into another vehicle when there is limited visibility, if another vehicle is changing lanes in the driver’s blind spot, or if there is danger of a collision because the driver ahead brakes suddenly.

“[It] has the potential to be the ultimate game-changer in roadway safety,” David Strickland of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a BBC story. “But we need to understand how to apply the technology in an effective way in the real world.”

This year-long project is a collaboration between The U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan, and will see if the technology will help to reduce the number of fatal collisions, much like anti-lock brakes and air bags have already done.

Fatalities from collisions in Canada were down to their lowest level in 20 years as of 2009 (the most recent year data was available), with 2,209 reported. In the U.S., there were more than 32,000 people killed in traffic crashes last year. Citizens of both countries hear repeated pleas from police and officials to refrain from distracted driving, which is the cause in many fatal and non-fatal accidents. Technology that could warn of erratic behaviour on the road could significantly curb those numbers.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the technology will help to prevent or reduce the severity of up to 80 per cent of crashes where the driver isn’t impaired by drugs or alcohol.

The test period will be used to see if the warning system actually helps to prevent crashes, in which data from a smaller-scale study has indicated it will.

If the test goes well, car owners may start to see the system employed in all vehicles as soon as five to ten years from now.