September 1, 2012

We often talk about the dangers of distracted driving. When texting or talking on a cellphone takes the driver’s focus from the road for even a second, the results can be disastrous. We talk, too, about the risks associated with driving while fatigued — reflexes are slower, attention may wander and, again, the driver may have a hard time focusing on the road.

Engineers and highway safety organizations have devised things like rumble strips to warn drivers that they are drifting into another lane, for example, or coming up on a stop sign or reduced-speed zone. While these and other warning systems have proved helpful, the U.S. Department of Transportation has not limited its research to roadbeds.

The Transportation Department recently launched a test of a wireless device that warns drivers of potential hazards. In partnership with university researchers, the department has developed a system that allows cars to communicate with one another and to notify the drivers that, say, traffic ahead has slowed down. The driver can reduce his own speed in time, thus avoiding a crash.

The researchers outfitted about 2,800 vehicles in one metropolitan area with the devices and will collect data on the devices’ performance over the next year or so. One of the questions they want to answer is whether the device outperforms humans in emergency situations.

This is not the first test for the device, but it is the largest. One test conducted by the Transportation Research Institute showed that the device did prevent collisions. The device, installed in a Volkswagen GTI, successfully warned the driver that a vehicle in front of the car braked suddenly and that a car was about to go through an intersection.

The results of this new study will go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for analysis. If everything goes well, the NHTSA may recommend that the federal government mandate that the device be installed in all new vehicles at the factory. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressed his enthusiasm for the new technology, noting that the device could help to reduce the severity of and even to avoid as many as 80 percent of motor vehicle accidents that don’t involve an alcohol- or drug-impaired driver.

Source: LehighValleyLive.com, “Communicating cars to hit the road in Michigan using technology that promises to reduce accidents,” Associated Press, Aug. 27, 2012


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