The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have recently approved vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems for cars to be able to talk to each other. The goal is to reduce 70 – 80% of accidents that involve the driver’s impaired vision. By having every vehicle know where every other vehicle is in real time, we can avoid many accidents.   

For example, if you’re attempting to change lanes on the freeway and you have a blind spot, it’s no longer a blind spot because your car will know whether there’s another car in the lane. If there is, it will alert you and not allow you to drive into it. Or suppose you’re coming up on an intersection and can’t see that someone is speeding on the intersecting road and is about to cross right in front of you. Your car would automatically slow down and not let you pull out in front of it.

How can a car be so smart? The type of technology used is actually a very short-range radio network that will allow the vehicles to know where the other vehicles are up to 300 feet away. In essence, it would provide a 360-degree view of the vehicle’s surroundings, allowing the car to see what the driver can’t.

V2V communications represents a profound shift in auto safety. In the past, vehicle safety was about surviving crashes. Now, thanks to V2V communications and semi-autonomous features that are being added to cars and trucks, it’s shifting to anticipating and preventing crashes in the first place.

In addition to V2V, we’re also going to have V2I communications—vehicle-to-infrastructure. This is when the vehicle will be communicating with embedded sensors in our transportation infrastructure. For example, if there is ice on the surface of a bridge up ahead of you, the cement in the bridge surface will have an imbedded sensor that can detect the ice and communicate that information to your car as it approaches. The car will alert you, the driver, and if no action is taken, the car will automatically slow down to a safe speed. In addition, vehicles that are following you will know you have slowed down and will adjust accordingly.

This technology will spread beyond cars, busses, and trucks, and at some point include vehicle-to-bicycle (V2B) communications, where the sensors are part of the bike. And if all this is possible, what about V2P communications—vehicle-to-pedestrian? After all, most people carry a smart phone that could be tied into this system to let cars know when a pedestrian is ahead. Of course, there’s more of a privacy issue around this one, but safety is important and because we are talking about a very short range of communications (300 feet), we will eventually want this added protection. Additionally, with V2V communications, the sensors can’t identify who the driver is or what kind of car it is; it’s merely letting the car know there’s another vehicle going at a certain speed and distance. The same anonymity would be true for pedestrians. The car approaching you doesn’t need to know who you are; it only needs to know you are about to get hit if it doesn’t slow down. V2V, as well as the others I’ve talked about, could save a lot of lives thanks to predicting and actively avoiding accidents.

This is all part of something far bigger, which is called machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Some people have referred to this as the “Internet of Things,” where we are using sensors to communicate with each other and to machines.

One other element that will play into this, of course, is autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles. By now most of us know that Google has a small fleet of cars that can drive themselves. And, to date, they have logged millions of highway miles without one single accident. There are even a number of states that have given driver’s licenses to autonomous vehicles. I don’t think most people will want a car that’s going to fully drive itself anytime soon. Most drivers enjoy driving their car and having control. With that said, most drivers would rather not have an accident. Therefore, people will increasingly want their cars to be semiautonomous, which means they are driving their cars as much as they want to, and the cars will intervene when needed to prevent accidents.

V2V communications is a major step in the direction of semiautonomous cars that can keep drivers from having accidents.

What about you? Would you drive a semiautonomous car? Or is it giving away too much control to machines even if it means having an accident?