Has the Trump Administration Killed Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications Plan?

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Earlier this month, AP reported that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had killed an Obama administration proposal to equip all light vehicles (passenger cars, SUVs/crossovers and pickups) with technology known as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications.

The proposed rule, according to the NHTSA, “would enable V2V communication technology … enabling a multitude of new crash-avoidance applications that, once fully deployed, could prevent hundreds of thousands of crashes every year by helping vehicles ‘talk’ to each other.”

In a press release dated November 8, the DoT and the NHTSA said they “have not made any final decision” on the proposal. The V2V rule remains on the DoT’s list of significant rulemakings and the agencies say they are reviewing the 460 comments received since the rule was proposed.

The AP report cited auto industry officials who said that the Trump administration “has decided not to pursue a final V2V mandate.” White House officials reportedly said their decision was based on several factors, “including a general wariness of imposing costly mandates on industry.”

A second factor in the administration’s reported decision to withdraw the proposal is strong opposition from the cable and technology industries. V2V communications, as envisioned, would use a currently unused portion of the broadband spectrum (at 5.9 GHz) to enable communications between vehicles. That portion of spectrum was first set aside for transportation technologies in 1999.

Spectrum, however, is in short supply and high demand and cable and tech companies have been seeking permission to use the 5.9 GHz band to add wireless communications bandwidth.

According to an NHTSA press release in February 2014, this is how V2V technology works:

V2V technology does not involve exchanging or recording personal information or tracking vehicle movements. The information sent between vehicles does not identify those vehicles, but merely contains basic safety data. … V2V communications can provide the vehicle and driver with 360-degree situational awareness to address additional crash situations – including those, for example, in which a driver needs to decide if it is safe to pass on a two-lane road (potential head-on collision), make a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic, or in which a vehicle approaching at an intersection appears to be on a collision course. In those situations, V2V communications can detect threats hundreds of yards from other vehicles that cannot be seen, often in situations in which on-board sensors alone cannot detect the threat.

This press release is no longer available on the NHTSA website, but can be found at the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

V2V technology does not incorporate autonomous (self-driving) technology and does not automatically operate any vehicle system such as braking or steering.

In December the NHTSA also said it planned soon to issue guidance for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications that would allow vehicles to ‘talk’ to roadway infrastructure like traffic signals, stop signs and work zones “to improve mobility, reduce congestion, and improve safety.” There is no evidence that such guidance was ever issued.

The Obama administration proposal required that half of all new vehicles sold be equipped with V2V technology within two years after the rule was approved and all new vehicles to be so equipped within four years. Because the entire U.S. light vehicle fleet only turns over once in about every 20 years, it would take a long time to equip every vehicle on U.S. roads with the V2V technology. But as Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation told the AP, “The longer we wait, the more people die. We need to move forward on [V2V technology].”

One last thing to consider: Does the rapid development of self-driving technology render V2V technology obsolete before it even shows up on U.S. roads and highways? Whether or not that is true, don’t be surprised if it is offered as another reason not to move ahead with the technology.