The future of vehicle safety depends on talking cars. That is, cars that can communicate wirelessly, sharing data on their speed and positioning, giving them the ability to alert drivers of potential dangers.
Through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology, warnings could be triggered by a car slamming on their brakes in front of you, running a red light, or moving into your lane. Instead of dealing with the after effects of an accident, this technology would alert you to prevent a crash from occurring in the first place.
I recently had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of various connected vehicles at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) pilot test at a former naval air station in Alameda, California, and experience this promising new technology first hand.
I drove eight specially built vehicles with this new wireless technology which make them able to communicate with other vehicles at the test site. The vehicles I drove included a Acura TL, Cadillac DTS, Hyundai Sonata, Infiniti M37, Ford Taurus SHO, Mercedes-Benz C300, Toyota Venza, and Volkswagen GTI. Each vehicle was driven through a variety of traffic scenarios to see how the various alerts and warnings worked. They include:
Emergency electronic brake lights. This alerts a driver when a vehicle two or three cars ahead slams on their brakes unexpectedly, a help when you can’t see its brake lights. While driving behind two vehicles, I was notified immediately when the first car slammed on their brakes, enabling me to avoid a potential rear-end crash.
Forward-collision warning. This warning is sounded if there is an imminent forward crash. In one experiment, I drove up quickly to a slow-moving vehicle and had to brake immediately to avoid a rear-end collision. In the second scenario, I followed behind another car when it suddenly swerved out of the lane to expose a stopped vehicle in my path.
Blind-spot/Lane-change warning. When driving along on a highway stretch, the blind-spot warning light illuminated when a vehicle was traveling in my vehicle’s blind spot. Once I put on my directional signal to change lanes, a beep sounded to alert me it was unsafe. I also was instructed to drive past another car as I would on a highway and no alert sounded, showing that this technology doesn’t go off randomly unless there is an immediate danger. A vehicle-to-vehicle system is more accurate than current blind-spot monitoring systems that use cameras or radar and can even warn you of a car that’s accelerating into your blind zone, which conventional systems can’t do.
Left-turn assist. I was stopped at a traffic light trying to make a left turn, while another vehicle was waiting across the intersection to turn in the opposite direction. This application helped to determine if there was enough time to make the turn across oncoming traffic, a welcomed aid when my vision was obstructed by a stopped car across from me.
Intersection movement assist. This test was a bit more harrowing than the others. I had to travel toward a green light at 30 mph, while another vehicle was speeding towards their red light. Once the alert sounded, I needed to immediately react to avoid a dangerous T-bone accident. While I knew the risk was there, the warning would have helped a driver whose view was blocked or who was being inattentive.
Do-not-pass warning. While driving on a simulated rural two-lane road, this alert warned me that a vehicle was approaching and it was not safe to move into the left lane to pass a slower-moving vehicle.
Each vehicle I drove received the same information about the hazard. The difference is how the driver is alerted to the situation. Ford and Mercedes-Benz models used a series of lights on top of the dashboard. The yellow lights informed the driver of a potential hazard and the red lights warned that action (such as braking) needs to be taken. This was coupled with a tone as well.
Other manufacturers sampled used audible alerts and a graphic or message of the hazard description, or an illustration. General Motors and Toyota displayed the visual information above the center stack. Hyundai illustrated the warning in the center navigational display. Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen showed their visual warning in the instrument cluster, which is easier to miss.
Ford and GM were the only manufacturers that alerted the driver to which side of the vehicle that is in danger. This information is transmitted through a vibrating steering wheel, thereby avoiding alerting passengers. Other systems can vibrate the seat.
I found the Ford and Mercedes lights most useful, as their placement made it easy to see while looking out the windshield. No matter how the visual alert was displayed, the sound gets your attention to react immediately. Experiencing it behind the wheel, I was struck with how this useful this technology could be in every day driving situations, providing an additional safety net. Of course, this technology is still dependent on attentive drivers to take action, although a future step could have the vehicle braking autonomously.
For more on this new car safety technology, see our full report: “Stopping crashes
with smarter cars.”