The role of cellphone conversations in motor-vehicle accidents is likely to remain contentious, but getting cars talking to one another and to infrastructure could be a boon to safety.
As I reported earlier, it may be that drivers likely to be talking while driving may be dangerous whether or not they are on the phone. But smart-car technology could compensate for driver inattention, whatever its cause.
To investigate the possibilities, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute just launched a year-long test project of smart-car technology designed to save lives and reduce injuries among American motorists. Called Safety Pilot Model Deployment, the project represents a $22 million partnership between UMTRI and the U.S. Department of Transportation and is part of a joint research initiative led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. UMTRI says it is the largest connected-vehicle, street-level pilot project ever conducted.
As part of the project, UMTRI will install wireless communication devices on nearly 3,000 passenger cars, commercial trucks, and transit buses. The vehicles will be able to communicate with each other, as well as with traffic signals located throughout a test-pilot area in northeast Ann Arbor. Visual or audible warnings will alert drivers to potentially dangerous situations.
“This is a game-changer for transportation,” said program manager Jim Sayer, an associate research scientist at UMTRI, in a press release. “There are many safety and convenience applications to this, as well as applications related to mobility and sustainability. This is a tremendous opportunity, and we are very excited to be able to support the USDOT's demonstration of cutting-edge transportation technologies in our community.”
UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman said, “The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is playing a key role in the reduction of negative societal impacts associated with transportation around the world. UMTRI's expertise is in delivering high-quality research and deploying solutions to critical transportation issues.”
He added, “Safety Pilot Model Deployment is an example of our leadership in the area of safety and sustainability research. Connected vehicle technology has the ability to address as much as 80 percent of crashes of unimpaired drivers and greatly reduce carbon emissions. We also believe connected vehicle technology will influence new economy startups and innovation into the existing industrial base.”
After the testing phase, USDOT will use the data generated and archived as part of the project to inform future regulatory and policy decisions, and the transportation industry can use it to develop additional approaches to vehicle safety, mobility, and environmental sustainability. The testing phase will last one year, but the overall program will operate for 30 months, UMTRI reported.
“This is a big moment for automotive safety,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This cutting-edge technology offers real promise for improving both the safety and efficiency of our roads. That is a winning combination for drivers across America.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder added, “The technological advances in today's vehicles are improving the lives of citizens and making products designed and produced in Michigan more competitive in the marketplace,” said “The connected vehicle technologies being developed in partnership with the automotive industry and our universities provides great opportunity to create high-tech, high-paying jobs here in Michigan.”