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Wi-Fi Cars May Save Lives

Most traffic accidents are caused by human error. In theory, reducing the human element will reduce the number of errors, which in turn will reduce the number of accidents. A year long, government-funded study involving “connected cars” aims to do just that. With a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) is using about 3,000 vehicles to see if cars that talk to each other can save lives.

Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death in the United States. The NHSTA’s study hopes to find ways to make cars safer through communication to drive down the fatality rate. Connected cars use radar, cameras and Wi-Fi signals with a range of approximately 300 meters to communicate with other vehicles on the road (V2V). The NHSTA believes that more than 80 percent of accidents could be impacted by this V2V technology.

The study will be divided into two six-month periods and Ann Arbor residents will be carefully selected to drive the specially equipped vehicles (with Wi-Fi, radar and cameras). The motorists will use their normal routes to work, school, the grocery store and everywhere else. The cars’ paths will cross and communicate, allowing the UMTRI to collect data from the interaction to relay to the NHSTA for analysis.

The information collected includes the vehicle’s location, direction, speed, steering, throttle and braking. The enormous amount of anticipated data from the project would take up space on a pile of DVDs stacked 26 miles high. Based on the results of the NHSTA’s analysis, there is a possibility the NHSTA will mandate the use of V2V technology on all new cars.

The NHSTA’s Ann Arbor study coincides with a European study with similar technology but a slightly different aim. Sponsored by Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler, and the German government, the SIM (Safe Intelligent Mobility) project is using both V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology (together known as V2X) to decrease auto accidents and improve driving efficiency.

The V2I technology allows cars to communicate with stationary devices to alert drivers of upcoming accidents, smooth out traffic congestion and increase fuel efficiency by timing traffic signals based on traffic flow. Daimler calls its European project the “first ‘social network’ for automobiles.”

Hopefully, these studies will show that V2V and V2I technologies actually live up to their expectations. As traffic accidents are a leading cause of death among Americans, any technology that can reduce the number of employee errors and in turn reduce fatal accidents is extremely valuable. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an automobile accident, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your situation and your options.

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