BY JOSEPH LICHTERMAN
Daily News Editor
Published August 21, 2012
Smart cars that could revolutionize vehicle safety are coming to Ann Arbor.
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Nearly 3,000 vehicles equipped with wireless devices that communicate with one another to warn drivers of potential driving hazards will take part in a yearlong study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The wireless devices will have many capabilities, including the ability to notify drivers if a car ahead of them brakes suddenly or if there is a car in their blind spot as they change lanes.
The University’s Transportation Research Institute will conduct the study and has already equipped about 500 vehicles with the wireless devices. An additional 2,300 vehicles are expected to take to the Ann Arbor streets in about six weeks, according to officials.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) and other officials gathered Tuesday to inaugurate the program at the UMTRI facilities in the North Campus Research Complex.
LaHood said the Wi-Fi-like technology the vehicles use to communicate could revolutionize vehicle safety, much like seatbelts and airbags have. He said 80 percent of accidents where drivers aren’t impaired by alcohol or drugs could be prevented if vehicles could communicate with one another.
"Cars talking to cars is the future of motor safety. It opens the possibility of not just reducing the number of crashes, but preventing them altogether," LaHood said.
In addition to the safety benefits, Snyder said the study could also change how the state spends its resources on infrastructure by improving vehicle efficiency.
"It's replacing hard assets with smart assets," Snyder said. "We could more efficiently use the resources we have.”
Eight automakers — General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. — are also participating in the study, each donating eight vehicles to be used in the pilot.
More than 70 miles of road in Ann Arbor will also be outfitted with transmitters and receptors to notify the specially equipped vehicles about changes in traffic or other road conditions.
LaHood said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency which writes federal vehicle regulations, would decide on whether to introduce regulations after it reviews the data from the study next year.
Still, UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman said the technology isn’t overly expensive and that cars with the connectivity technology could be on the road commercially in less than a decade.
"I think this is going to kick everything off," he said. "This is going to move everything forward."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report