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Ann Arbor, Mich. is soon to become the testing ground for automotive safety technology that is expected to benefit generations to come. AP reports that in a few weeks about 2,800 cars, trucks and buses will start talking to each other on the streets of Ann Arbor in a giant experiment that government officials are hoping will lead to safer roads.
Wireless devices will allow the vehicles to send signals to each other, warning the drivers of potential dangers such as stopped traffic ahead or cars that might be blowing through a red light. The devices can even get traffic lights to turn green if no cars are coming the other way.
Researchers from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the University of Michigan are hoping the year-long $25 million project generates data that show these devices can cut down on traffic crashes.
About 500 vehicles with these devices are now on the roads. And that number will rise to about 2,800 in about six weeks. In an event held Tuesday at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that more than 32,000 people died in the U.S. last year as a result of traffic crashes, but 80 percent of crashes in which the drivers are not impaired by drugs or alcohol could be prevented --or the severity reduced-- if cars could talk to each other.
Exactly when the technology might make its way into cars and trucks remains unclear, and it is also unclear how those vehicles equipped with devices interact with vehicles that are not.
Nonetheless, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to order devices placed in all new cars but LaHood said they'll have to study the data before making any decisions. The data from the Ann Arbor experiment will become available in about one year.
The potential safety improvements these devices represent are truly life-saving. For instance, in one demonstration a Volkswagen GTI equipped with a device got a signal that a car ahead of it had braked. The warning allowed the GTI driver to slow down even before seeing the brake lights on the vehicle in front of him. The device also warned the GTI driver at a stop sign that another car was about to speed through the intersection.
According to the Detroit Free Press, much of the basic legwork has been done by a collaboration of eight automakers: General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai/Kia and Mercedes-Benz, as well as suppliers who have been working on the project for over a year already in preparation for the field trial that began three weeks ago with the first 500 cars and will be in full swing in six weeks. Each automaker also has responsibility for individual areas of research.
Stunning developments indeed. We are fortunate to be witnesses to groundbreaking innovation.