High-tech merge: Cars signaling cars gets a trial run

Ray LaHood , transportation secretary: "Big day for safety."
Ray LaHood , transportation secretary: "Big day for safety."
Posted: August 23, 2012

In a few weeks, about 2,800 cars, trucks, and buses will start talking to one another on the streets of Ann Arbor, Mich., in a giant experiment that government officials are hoping will lead to safer roads.

Wireless devices will allow the vehicles to send signals to one another, warning their drivers of potential dangers such as stopped traffic or cars that might be blowing through red lights. They can even get traffic lights to turn green if no cars are coming the other way.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan are hoping the yearlong, $25 million project generates data that show the devices can cut down on traffic crashes. Eventually, officials say, that could lead to the devices going in every car.

About 500 vehicles with the devices are now on the roads. That will rise to 2,800 in about six weeks, officials said Tuesday.

"This is a big day for safety," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at an event at the university formally beginning the experiment. "We'll use this information to decide if vehicle technology can be applied to daily lives."

More than 32,000 people died last year in U.S. traffic crashes, down 1.7 percent from 2010.

The number of crashes has fallen in recent years as automakers have added safety devices such as air bags, antilock brakes, and stability control, which helps drivers keep cars under control in emergency situations.

On Tuesday, LaHood said that 80 percent of crashes in which drivers are not impaired by drugs or alcohol could be prevented - or their severity reduced - if cars could talk to one another.

No one knows exactly when the technology will make its way into cars and trucks everywhere. LaHood said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will look at the data before deciding to require the devices. The data needed to make a decision will be available in a year.

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