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Larry Printz: Life-saving V2V system could come standard, but not cheap

March 3, 2013

   

In early February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it will begin taking steps to enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication for cars and light-duty trucks. NHTSA says that by allowing V2V, vehicles could exchange basic data, such as speed and position. The system would then warn a driver of a possible collision, but would not automatically stop or steer the vehicle. NHTSA plans to publish a report on V2V technology in a few weeks detailing its technical feasibility, privacy and security issues, and estimated cost and safety benefits. The department claims that when fully implemented, V2V could prevent roughly 5.1 million accidents a year and save 18,000 lives.

Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx wants to have new regulations ready by January 2017, when President Barack Obama leaves office.

Itís a noble goal. Technology that saves lives is always worth investigating, but it costs money.

A 2004 NHTSA report that looked at safety features on cars from 1967 through 2002 estimated that 4 percent of a 2002 model carís weight and $839 ó or $1,086 today ó in cost were the result of federal safety standards.

Since that study was released, the government has insisted on further safety systems not included in that cost, such as electronic stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Now comes V2V, a system that will increase the cost of a new car that, on average, cost almost $31,000 in 2013. Whatever added costs V2V regulations will add to cars, it will be in addition to the extra $3,000 federal fuel economy regulations are expected to add to the cost of a new car or truck by the year 2025. And V2V adds weight, which makes meeting that fuel economy requirement tougher.

Moreover, the true benefit of this technology will be realized only when a majority of vehicles are equipped with it. Given the average age of a car in the United States is 11.4 years, itís going to take some time for V2V to be particularly effective.

Officials also state that V2V systems could talk to outside sources, such as a stop light, which would tell your car to stop. But couldnít it also open cars up to criminal behavior? Given the increasing number of CPUs in a car or truck, thereís the rising threat of cars being hacked, or their software corrupted as they speak with each other or outside sources.

Thereís also the question of whether the government can handle the additional infrastructure demands. In an era when our roads and bridges are crumbling, and our highways and tunnels are overtaxed, one must wonder if any government agency could competently maintain the systems that would talk to your car or truck. Is the cost of creating and maintaining such systems worthwhile?

And imagine the liability issues when the electronics fail.

Finally, one must ask if the regulation is even needed. The basic building blocks of V2V are already offered. Many new cars have any number of sensors and cameras to intervene if a crash is imminent or warn when a vehicle strays from its lane. For most drivers, such electronic aid is welcome, and they are buying such features as blind-spot warning or lane-keeping assist.

While these features are not yet widespread, they are becoming more common, and they accomplish most of what a V2V system would. Saving lives is important, but if the same goal can be met with existing technology, why add the cost?

But in a country that has become preoccupied with safety, be it hand sanitizer or the TSA, one suspects we will get V2V, whether we want it or not.

 

 

 

  McClatchy-Tribune Information Services