Traffic and highway-safety experts are perhaps too polite to say so, but the key to safer motoring and less congestion is to take the driver out of the equation.
These experts see the day 10 to 20 years off -- sooner if the federal government mandates the devices -- when cars will be able to "talk" to each other so that their on-board computers know the location, speed and direction of all the vehicles around them. And they will be equipped to take corrective action, even before the driver knows there's a problem.
By communicating with cars far ahead in traffic or out of sight around a curve, they can anticipate sudden traffic stoppages or icy road conditions. The cars would be equipped with short-range transmitters updating information 10 times per second over dedicated bandwidth based on cameras, radars and sensors.
The Texas Transportation Institute estimates the devices could cut highway fatalities and injuries in half, eliminating billions in medical bills and collision repairs. Nearly half of the nation's 6 million crashes a year are eminently avoidable rear-end collisions.
Other experts are even more optimistic. Ron Medford, deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told The Washington Post: "This connected-vehicle technology could address about 80 percent, or four out of five, of all the unimpaired driving crashes in America."
The NHTSA is testing the technology on 3,000 cars in Ann Arbor, Mich.
As useful as the devices may be for safety purposes, they may be equally useful in what one official called "congestion management," regulating the speed, interval and routes of cars to avoid traffic jams.
Not to unfairly single out Washington, D.C., but such a device on a car on the capital's notorious Beltway may register a car 3 feet in front of yours, another 3 feet behind and one 3 feet on either side.
And none of you are moving faster than a walking pace and probably won't be for another 20 or 30 minutes.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)
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