Intent on exploring just how effective "smart" cars fitted with Wi-Fi enabled vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication capabilities may be in helping drivers avoid or prevent crashes, the U.S. Department of Transportation and eight automakers have begun the largest-ever on-the-road assessment program to evaluate this emerging technology. The $25 million federally funded year-long study is being conducted by the University Of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), and entails the use of some 3,000 vehicles that will be monitored while driving on the roads around Ann Arbor, where the university is located. This is the second phase of DOT's connected vehicle Safety Pilot, itself a major research initiative managed by NHTSA and the Research and Innovative Technologies Administration (RITA) Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office.

Main industry support for this expanded research undertaking is coming from Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Honda Motor Company, Hyundai Motor Company, Nissan Motor Company, Toyota Motor Corporation and Volkswagen AG. Each manufacturer will provide eight primary units -- cars, trucks and buses -- fitted with a number of advanced safety features as well as transmitter/receiver units that support vehicle-to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that can keep them in direct contact with each other as well as provide warnings to a driver if a specific crash danger exists. They'll also gather extensive information about system operability and its effectiveness at reducing these crashes.

Several hundred other vehicles will be fitted with similar V2V and V2I capabilities but without the driver warning feature. The remaining members of the fleet will gather and pass along real-time information on a variety of conditions influencing traffic conditions and hazards. Key on that list are threats such as an impending collision at a blind intersection, a vehicle changing lanes in another vehicle's blind spot, or a rear collision with a vehicle stopped ahead, among others.

The DOT strongly believes in the power of V2V and V2I. Speaking at the official kickoff event, Transportation Secretary LaHood noted: "This cutting-edge technology offers real promise for improving both the safety and efficiency of our roads." He believes that it has the power to reduce accidents by 80 percent or more. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland echoed that optimistic the sentiment, observing: "Vehicle-to-vehicle communication has the potential to be the ultimate game-changer in roadway safety -- but we need to understand how to apply the technology in an effective way in the real world. NHTSA will use the valuable data from the ‘model deployment' as it decides if and when these connected vehicle safety technologies should be incorporated into the fleet."

LaHood indicated that the results of this ambitious 12-month program would be reviewed by DOT and NHTSA when it has concluded. At that point, the government will attempt to determine whether to implement any new regulations regarding the adoption and timing of V2V and V2I technology in future vehicles.

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