The Future is Now: NHTSA Proposes Rule Requiring Cars to “Talk” to Each Other

Even just a decade ago, this might have sounded like the work of science fiction–cars “talking” to other cars in a way that would prevent–or reduce the severity of–a significant percentage of automobile accidents.  Such a “futuristic” concept may soon become a reality as NHTSA announced recently that it issued a proposed rule that would advance the deployment of “connected” vehicle technologies–so-called “vehicle-to-vehicle” or “V2V”–throughout the U.S. light vehicle fleet.  According to NHTSA, once fully deployed, the technology could prevent hundreds of thousands of crashes every year.

As explained in the proposed rule, the V2V system currently envisioned would be a combination of many elements, including “a radio technology for the transmission and reception of messages, the structure and contents of ‘basic safety messages’ (BSMs), the authentication of incoming messages by receivers, and, depending on a vehicle’s behavior, the triggering of one or more safety warnings to drivers.”

The V2V devices would use dedicated short range communications to transmit a wide variety of data, such as location, direction and speed, to nearby vehicles. That data would be updated and broadcast up to 10 times per second to nearby vehicles, and using that information, V2V-equipped vehicles could identify risks and provide warnings to drivers to avoid imminent crashes.

Vehicles that contain automated driving functions (already available on a number of current vehicles)—such as automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control—could also benefit from the V2V data to better avoid or reduce the consequences of crashes.

While the potential scenarios on the road where V2V technology might trigger a warning–and prevent a crash–is seemingly limitless, the technology could prove significantly helpful in reducing crashes at intersections or while changing lanes.  NHTSA’s announcement gives examples including where a driver needs to decide if it is safe to pass on a two-lane road (potential for a head-on collision), make a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic, or determine if a vehicle approaching an intersection is on a collision course.  “In those situations, V2V communications can detect developing threat situations hundreds of yards away, and often in situations in which the driver and on-board sensors alone cannot detect the threat.”

With all this car-to-car data sharing, you might be wondering about privacy concerns.  For its part, NHTSA states that privacy is protected in V2V safety transmissions:  “V2V technology does not involve the exchange of information linked to or, as a practical matter, linkable to an individual, and the rule would require extensive privacy and security controls in any V2V devices.”

So just when might we start seeing this technology deployed in vehicles available at your local showroom? The short answer is “soon.”  NHTSA is proposing that the effective date for manufacturers to begin implementing the new requirements would be two model years after the final rule is adopted, with a three year phase-in period. So if the final rule is issued in 2019, the phase-in period would begin in 2021, and all vehicles subject to that final rule would be required to comply in 2023.

The notice of proposed rulemaking is now open for public comment for 90 days.

We will continue to monitor developments in this exciting area and report on them here at the Product Liability Monitor.