Scott Belcher

President and CEO
Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America)

Intelligent transportation systems truly are the next big thing in vehicle safety. Having vehicles communicate with each other to alert drivers to unsafe roads, accidents and other problems will, quite simply, be transformational.

Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that connected vehicle technologies could lead to a 70 percent reduction in the number of crashes where the driver isn’t impaired. In terms of order of magnitude for vehicle safety, this is as big a leap forward as the implementation of seat belts or the addition of electronic stability controls.

Auto manufacturers have already demonstrated the viability of connected vehicles, and the technology has been taking big steps forward in recent years – in part because regulators are considering taking action by 2013 to require such technology.

The system is based upon Dedicated Short-Range Communication, or DSRC, which consists of wireless channels designed specifically for automotive use. DSRC technology is also being used for infrastructure-to-vehicle communications, such as automatic payment systems at tollbooths.

In the United States, auto manufacturers have been investing hundreds of millions of dollars and are working together through the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership to develop the technology on an open, shared platform. This means that a Ford vehicle will be able to “talk” not only to another Ford, but to a Toyota, a GM or any other vehicle on the road. The Department of Transportation, which has been encouraging the collaboration, and automakers should be commended for making this big and important commitment.

Of course, there are always naysayers who question the technology platforms. But it’s the same argument that doubters made with the introduction of cell phones or the Internet. That is, as soon as you settle on a technology, something else will inevitably come along that is smarter, cheaper or better.

Depending on when vehicle-to-vehicle DSRC technology becomes a requirement for new cars, we can anticipate seeing full penetration of these systems as standard equipment on all vehicles within 10 to 15 years. That’s the timeframe needed for deployment within the majority of new vehicles on the road. Meanwhile, “here I am” devices can be installed in older vehicles, speeding the use of vehicle-to-vehicle safety technology. Once fully deployed, cars will be able to communicate to avoid crashes and to allow for better management of our highways and infrastructure.

In addition, consumer electronics companies are building after-market vehicle-to-vehicle technology devices.

ITS America has been working to harmonize the standards globally, so that vehicles in Europe will communicate with each other the same way that they do in the United States or in Asia. You want the safety messages and the systems to operate on the same platform – but we’re not there yet. Ford has been very actively involved in this effort.

The safety benefits for these communications are often seen as the top priority, but vehicle-to-vehicle capabilities can also have big impacts on traffic congestion and on the environment. If you know to steer clear of a certain highway, then you can reroute your commute and avoid sitting in traffic – thereby reducing your vehicle emissions. Similarly, this system can help to identify parking spots in an urban setting, thereby significantly limiting the amount of time spent circling around looking for a spot.

Automakers have much at stake on the issue of climate change. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications are just one way they can make a substantial contribution toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.