27 Jun 2014

Is Car to Car Communication the Future of Road Safety?

It’s fair to say that in the last couple of decades there have seen major advances in the automobile world. From intuitive satellite navigation systems, to hybrid, super energy efficient cars, and of course more recently, Google among others have explored the vast and powerful possibilities of driverless cars with inbuilt car to car communication systems.

These completely responsive cars have already been endorsed by major governments throughout the world, including Google’s home in the USA. The basic premise is that through V2V (vehicle to vehicle) communication, hazards could be intuitively avoided and traffic conditions anticipated. With reports stating that all cars could be fitted with this technology by 2020, it’s time to get familiarised with the notion of driving a much more intelligent motor car.

With extensive testing happening now in the USA, the next two years will prove vital to the future of V2V technology. Major parties involved in the project include the US Department of Transportation plus almost all the major car manufacturers across the globe, from Volkswagen to Ford. The idea is to literally road test the technology along major arterial routes in the US to determine its potential benefits and pitfalls.

The power of communication
Through a short-range wireless network and using standard GPRS data, these cars will effectively talk to each via a network of nodes on traffic signals, stationary roadside units and the cars themselves. This technology will provide accurate and up-to-the-minute reports on the road up to 1000 meters ahead.

Not only this, the idea is that everything within these cars would be interlinked, with a series of warning lights and receptors transmitting signals to neighbouring vehicles. This would prompt them to react accordingly in the event of a crash or incident. The technology works round blind bends, sudden stops, it can even anticipate dangers of changing lanes. 

Now, it’s worth stressing at this point that the first V2V communication cars will allow the driver a large degree of control, with the option to switch it off entirely if required. The intention is to provide a warning system for drivers rather than taking the wheel from them entirely.

Despite this, the possibilities V2V communication present, naturally reveal unprecedented benefits ranging from scenarios such as running late for that early morning business meeting, or en route to catch a flight. It has also been hailed as fast-track to dramatically improving road safety, allowing drivers a significantly increased amount of time to react to traffic conditions.

A controversial solution

In Africa traffic incidents remain a major cause for concern. Experts have explained that the potential such technology has to reduce accidents due to negligence or driving under the influence is massive. In South Africa alone alcohol and substance abuse accounts for the vast majority of collisions. With such hard facts, there is little wonder why a communication system such as this is a hot topic.
On the other hand, a critic may argue that treating the root cause of symptomatic problems like alcoholism and drug taking should be a primary focus, rather than employing the benefits of V2V communication to absolve ourselves of responsibility.

Relying on technology like this blindly also carries its own risk. Following the instructions of a system without critical appraisal of the information provided, rather than using instinct and initiative can open up a whole host of hazards. Not only that, with a limited reach, V2V communication cannot be fully effective. The ideal scenario is for every car to be fitted with the ability to communicate with each other. There is also the question mark hanging over privacy issues. What’s to stop someone for example, sitting by the side of the road and transmitting a false message?

The other query raised has been over the idea of insurance. Specifically because the basis of such agreements would certainly have to be revisited since the idea of comprehensively insuring a driver would no longer apply.

The game-changer V2V communication instigates is both deep and far reaching. Its invention is certainly a landmark in communication technology, even in its early stages. But it could be said that its possibilities are matched by the questions it raises. It seems that there are many hurdles to overcome and questions to answer before this becomes the way our roads are travelled. 

Contributed by reader Emma Pickles

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