The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a report installing technology that allows passenger cars and light trucks to communicate with other vehicles within 300 yards could prevent more than half a million left-turn and intersection crashes and save more than a thousand lives every year, and it is working on new rules that would eventually make the technology mandatory.
“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," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the Associated Press reports.
NHTSA: New tech could reduce many common accidents
Many cars already have collision avoidance systems that use perimeter sensors to react faster than a driver’s reflexes to avoid, or at least reduce the severity of, collisions. But this new technology would give more than a split-second warning, and at least for now it sounds like it would notify the driver instead taking control of the car.
That way if a car is going too fast to realistically stop as the light turns from yellow to red, someone waiting at the intersection could be notified to wait a second after the light turns green. Or if two cars do have an accident every other driver in the vicinity can be notified so that there is less chance of a major pile-up. Drivers who are within both 300 yards of the accident and the nearest exit might even save a bit of time by getting off the highway instead of getting stuck in a traffic jam.
NHTSA: Rules point to greater vehicle automation
But this new system does raise a couple of difficult new questions. If our waiting driver in the first example ignores the car’s warning and enters the intersection, resulting in an accident, who is at fault? It might seem obvious that the person running a red light is at fault, but is it really that far-fetched to imagine a lawyer in a wrongful death civil suit arguing that the driver had an obligation to heed the car’s warning and avoid the collision?
While it’s not a part of the current proposal, the new NHTSA requirements that are being written up also seem to point to cars’ continued automation. That’s not to say that we will all be riding around in Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)'s self-driving cars in the near future, if our cars are already keeping track of each other on the road, and collision avoidance systems are installed in many of them, it’s only a matter of time before the two are connected.