The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed new safety regulations that got very little coverage; perhaps because the proposed rule came out on December 13th just before the yearend holidays. These regulations would use a new technology – vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) radio communications – that would allow vehicles to automatically send vehicle sensor data – the vehicle’s speed, heading, brake status and other information – to other vehicles to alert drivers to potential crash situations.
This is interesting technology that could impact the speed with which autonomous vehicles become viable. That is because the chief impediment to the viability of autonomous vehicles are fears that they are not safe enough.
There are already advanced crash avoidance technologies available that employ on-board sensor technologies – such as vehicle camera systems, RADAR, and LIDAR – to monitor a vehicles’ surroundings. That sensor data can then be used to warn the driver of impending danger so the driver can take appropriate action to avoid or mitigate a crash. Examples of the alerts include forward collision warnings, blind spot warnings, and lane change warnings. These sensors can also be used for driver assist and allow a vehicle to automatically apply braking in a potential collision scenario.
The NHTSA is proposing that Basic Safety Message data should be shared with other nearby vehicles so that other types of potential accidents can be prevented. The Basic Safety Message will use vehicle-to-vehicle technology to communicate data on the vehicle’s speed, heading, brake status and other vehicle information to surrounding vehicles and receive the same information from them. Sharing this data will help to prevent the types of accidents current technologies help prevent, but also accidents current technologies don’t address, such as a vehicle about to turn in front of yours at an intersection. The NHTSA also argues that the current technologies have limitations in terms of sensor range and inability to fully cope with sensor obstructions that vehicle-to-vehicle systems will not.
V2V Technology Will Reduce Crashes
The NHTSA calls existing technologies “vehicle resident systems,” and believes that the combination of vehicle resident systems and new “communication-based systems” are complementary because the combined data sets will add preventative capabilities. The draft argues “in the longer-term, the agency believes this fusion of V2V and vehicle-resident technologies will advance the further development of vehicle automation systems, including the potential for truly self-driving vehicles.”
Proposed regulatory agency rules must include a cost benefit analysis. The NHSTA foresees savings much, much larger than costs; 30 years out from when the mandate takes effect they are projecting $2.2 billion to $5 billion in costs ($135 to $300 per vehicle), but savings of $53 to $71 billion based on reduced costs associated with crashes.
But don’t expect a major impediment to autonomous vehicles to disappear quickly. Governmental agencies proposed rule makings progress incrementally. This first phase would require this technology only for new light-duty vehicles; clearly full benefits won’t be present until all vehicles are subject to the same regulations. Further out, the NHSTA also wants to have vehicles communicate with transportation infrastructure such as traffic lights, stop signs, and works zones to reduce congestion and improve safety. And the proposal, if not slowed by law suits (and it will be), foresees a phased implementation with a final ruling in 2019, a phased in period beginning in 2021, and all light-duty vehicles subject to the rule in 2023. If we assume that this ruling is a key piece of the puzzle needed to make autonomous vehicles a reality, most of the 2.5 million or so US truck driving jobs that a White House Artificial Intelligence report warns may be threatened by automation should be safe through at least 2025.