DOT Runs Volunteer Tests on Car-to-Car Safety Communications

The US Department of Transportation has run a test using volunteers driving cars outfitted with communications devices that allowed the cars to “talk” to one another to warn drivers of hazardous conditions. Technology Review reports that the DOT found the exercise very useful and is considering requiring some of the devices to be installed onto cars as soon as 2015.

The test took place in Alameda, California and included 120 volunteers from ages 20 to 70 and several technicians from the DOT and the technology firms who provided the hardware that was installed on all of the test cars.

As the test went on, each volunteer drove a test vehicle around a test track. Sitting beside each volunteer was an observer that studied the actions and reactions of the drivers. The cars were fitted with Wi-Fi communications devices and various kinds of radar that not only tracked the movements of other vehicles but broadcast the whereabouts of each as well, along with speed and momentum detectors. All of the devices were then connected to computers that calculated the risk of an accident based on all of the information supplied.

In the initial stages, very little activity was noted as the drivers were being extra cautious. As time wore on however, drivers were found to occasionally take their eyes off the road as they tired and some were instructed to perform risky maneuvers such is driving in another car’s blind spot. Different sounds were made to indicate different hazardous conditions, and the driver’s ability to recognize which was which and then to take action based on them was also monitored. One system that impressed almost everyone at the test was a signal sent by one vehicle to another when the driver in front pressed on the brake and was close enough to cause an accident if the second car didn’t apply the brakes right away as well.

Afterwards all of the volunteers were interviewed regarding the experience and which they felt helpful or distracting.

The DOT hasn’t yet said which of the various technologies tested are being considered for requirement on new vehicles, but the Review suggests it seems rather obvious based on observations of those at the test.

A device that can recognize and warn a driver of an impending collision is almost a no-brainer at this point as some cars already come with them. Also likely are devices that alert a driver when he or she begins to veer off the road or are about to pass through a red light.

What’s not clear is whether the government might ever require car-to-car devices that assist in reducing traffic tie-ups by forcing cars heading into the jam to slow down, or those leaving to speed up. Also not clear is whether the government will insist that devices that force drivers to adhere to speed limits be installed.

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