New technologies may help prevent car accidents

New technologies may help prevent car accidents

Since summer of last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation, in conjunction with researchers at the University of Michigan, has been testing new technologies that allow cars to communicate with each other. The goal is to develop systems that help vehicles not only avoid traffic jams, but also prevent deadly car accidents. Indeed, DOT officials estimate that inter-vehicle communications systems would help prevent or reduce the severity of roughly 80 percent of all auto accidents.

As part of the project, researchers equipped approximately 3,000 cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses in the Ann Arbor area with new wireless devices that track the speed and location of other vehicles, as well as allow for communication with roadside devices. The system uses communications with other vehicles to alert drivers to traffic congestion and can even determine whether another car is braking or about to turn. By communicating with city infrastructure, the system can turn a traffic light green if there is no other traffic and will alert drivers when a light is about to change from green to red.

Overall, the systems have recorded approximately eight billion communications between vehicles and city infrastructure in the first six months of the study. The extensive road test, which was conducted throughout the 28 square mile city of Ann Arbor, cost approximately $25 million and was the largest ever test of its kind. Toyota, General Motors and other automakers also provided materials necessary for the study.

While DOT officials are still evaluating initial data, the early results are promising. According to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, the systems operated exactly as expected. The Ann Arbor road test was the second phase of a DOT plan to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of vehicle to vehicle communications systems. Given the success of the test so far, it is likely that the DOT will proceed with a larger test in the third phase. The large-scale evaluation of the technology will go a long way in helping the DOT determine whether these systems should be mandatory equipment in all automobiles in the U.S.

Of course, like other safety technology, experts expect that cost will be a limiting factor in widespread adoption. It is still too early to speculate on the amount that these systems might increase the cost of a vehicle, but the DOT has said it will work with car makers to help make sure that everyone will have access to it.

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