Crash-prevention gear to be mandated

A side-mirror warning signal is one tool that can be used in crash-avoidance systems. The Obama administration is taking the first step toward requiring such gear in new cars.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press/File
A side-mirror warning signal is one tool that can be used in crash-avoidance systems. The Obama administration is taking the first step toward requiring such gear in new cars.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is taking a first step toward requiring that cars and light trucks be able to warn each other of potential dangers in time to avoid collisions.

A report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the technology that is needed could prevent as many as 592,000 left-turn and intersection crashes a year, saving 1,083 lives. The agency said Monday that it will begin drafting rules to require the technology in new vehicles.

The technology uses a radio signal to continually transmit a vehicle’s position, heading, speed, and other information. Cars and trucks that are equipped with it would receive the same information, and their computers would alert drivers to an impending collision.


A car would ‘‘see’’ when another car or truck was about to run a red light, even if that vehicle were hidden around a corner. A car would also know when a car several vehicles ahead in a line of traffic had made a sudden stop and alert the driver, even before the brake lights are illuminate.

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The technology works up to about 300 yards away.

If state and local governments choose to invest in the technology, roadways and traffic lights could start communicating with cars, as well, sending warnings of traffic congestion or road hazards.

The technology is separate from automated safety features using sensors and radar that are already being built into some high-end vehicles and which are seen as the basis for self-driving cars. But government and industry officials see the two technologies as compatible. If continuous communication between cars make driving safer, then self-driving cars would become safer, as well.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the vehicle-to-vehicle technology ‘‘the next great advance in saving lives.’’


‘‘This technology could move us from helping people survive crashes to helping them avoid crashes altogether — saving lives, saving money, and even saving fuel, thanks to the widespread benefits it offers,’’ Foxx said.

Once a critical mass of vehicles is equipped with the technology, they are expected to be able to follow each other safely at a close, preset distance on highways. Such ‘‘platoons’’ or ‘‘road trains’’ hold the potential to enhance the flow of traffic and save fuel.

The information sent between vehicles does not identify those vehicles, but merely contains basic safety data, NHTSA said. ‘‘The system as contemplated contains several layers of security and privacy protection to ensure that vehicles can rely on messages sent from other vehicles,’’ the agency said.

Adding the technology to new vehicles or retrofitting existing ones is expected to cost $341 to $350 per vehicle in 2020, but could decrease by more than $100 over time as manufacturers gain experience making the devices, the safety administration said.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers praised the technology, but avoided commenting directly on the government’s intention to require the technology in new cars.