By Deborah A.P. Hersman and Regina Hopper
Memorial Day is around the corner and millions of American families will get into their cars for a mini vacation marking the start of summer road trip season. AAA estimates 34.6 million people will travel by car, the highest number on the road in over a decade this holiday weekend. Unfortunately, the risk of a highway crash causing serious injury or death is still a reality. According to the National Safety Council an estimated 409 people may be killed during the Memorial Day weekend. Even one person is too many.
The greatest challenges result in greater innovation. New vehicle communications technologies hold the potential to save thousands of lives a year, billions of dollars in collision costs, reduce pollution, and make the driving experience better than ever. There are steps we can take now to get us closer to zero fatalities — especially as the White House, Congress, and state and local officials prepare to spend billions of dollars to repair and replace our crumbling highways, bridges, transit, and other infrastructure.
Not too long ago, cars only contained passive safety features such as seat belts and air bags. Today’s vehicles feature active devices such as lane departure warnings, rear backup cameras, and adaptive cruise control. Technology has come a long way and it is important to harness its full potential — especially when it comes to saving lives.
The federal government has some proposed actions that would speed the development and deployment of technologies that will enable cars to communicate with each other — and avoid crashes. These “connected vehicles” use a specified band of spectrum, the 5.9 GHz frequency, which was set aside specifically for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. Some groups now see the 5.9 band as a way to provide faster Wi-Fi services and have petitioned to allow the band to be shared.
That is why a broad group of industries, highway users, transportation technology, consumer, and safety advocates has joined to create the Safety Spectrum Coalition. We support the need to deploy V2V communications, supported by the 5.9 GHz “safety spectrum band.” While we remain technology neutral — and there is testing, for example with 5G for these technologies — we know that the use of V2V technology in the 5.9 band allows vehicles to securely and anonymously transmit data directly from one vehicle to another and prevent crashes. Vehicles can effectively “see” around corners and achieve greater 360-degree situational awareness to inform or warn a driver of an impending crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says using V2V applications could avoid or mitigate 89% of light duty vehicle crashes and 85 percent of their associated costs, saving thousands of lives, avoiding millions of injuries, and yielding billions of dollars in cost savings.
The Safety Spectrum Coalition has been working with the White House, the FCC, the U.S. DOT, and other constituencies to continue testing to determine if other uses of the spectrum would inhibit safety. Until then, V2V is ready to go on the 5.9 GHz channels to save lives.
For more information about the Safety Spectrum Coalition go to www.thesafetyspectrum.org
Deborah A.P. Hersman is the President/CEO of the National Safety Council. She is also the former Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Regina Hopper is the President/CEO of ITS America. A former Emmy-award winning correspondent with CBS News, she comes to intelligent transportation from trucking, telecommunications, and energy.