MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
If only cars could talk to each other. Actually, they can. At least there's technology out there that could get them sharing information with other cars, which could potentially save thousands of lives every year. Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has been reporting on this and explains there is a high-stakes game of chicken going on when it comes to actually putting the technology in every car.
TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: You and I, we're the good drivers, right? We've never cut someone off in our blind spot. We've never run a red light or not noticed a car in front slowing down and nearly hit them. But all those other drivers, they do that a lot. And it's dangerous. What if our cars had devices that could communicate with other cars and help us avoid accidents? Well, that technology, using GPS and Wi-Fi, exists. It's called vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V.
CEM SARAYDAR: It enhances your senses, in a way, to give you more time to react to potentially dangerous events.
SAMILTON: That's Cem Saraydar with General Motors. GM was the first in the U.S. to put V2V in a car, namely the Cadillac CTS. Saraydar says the potential is huge. It could prevent up to 80 percent of accidents involving non-impaired drivers, potentially saving 15,000 lives a year. Saraydar has arranged a demonstration. And we get into a CTS with researcher at Vivek Vijaya Kumar behind the wheel. Another driver is in a different CTS.
VIVEK VIJAYA KUMAR: So each vehicle transmits or broadcasts information such as its position, speed, heading and so on.
SAMILTON: There's different warnings for different situations. If the CTS in front suddenly brakes, this lady tells you to watch out.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Hard braking ahead.
SAMILTON: The seat can vibrate on the right or the left to call out dangers on either side of the car. In one scenario, we're creeping along, about to enter a road from the parking lot. Bushes are obscuring our view of the car that's about to be in our path. The seat vibrates, and there's this.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)
SAMILTON: Get your attention? That's the point. And if you're about to plow into the back of another car, you'll get a whole slew of warnings...
(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)
SAMILTON: ...Plus a projection on the windshield to warn you. Automakers say the technology has proven itself and is ready for prime time. So what's holding it up? A final regulation mandating V2V has languished in both the Obama and Trump administrations. So now Toyota, in a challenge to competitors, says it will voluntarily put V2V in most of its cars - by the mid-2020s. Toyota's John Kenney says this technology is really V2E, vehicle-to-everything. Cars can communicate with traffic lights that are sending signals. If people carried little clip-on devices or put apps on their iPhones...
JOHN KENNEY: We can also communicate with pedestrians and motorcyclists and bicyclists and road workers to make them safer.
SAMILTON: Proponents are really frustrated by the delay. Jim Sayer heads the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The group conducted one of the first pilots of V2V seven years ago. Sayer says while V2V or V2E isn't as sexy as autonomous vehicles, it's safe. And it works.
JIM SAYER: Every year we wait to require these devices, thousands of lives are being lost that could otherwise be saved.
SAMILTON: And there's yet another reason for urgency. The FCC has set aside a frequency for V2V, but other industries are eyeing it hungrily. For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK MILK'S "WHEN THE SKY FALLS")
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