Talking-Cars in Yearlong Vehicle-Safety Study in Michigan

A real-world test of almost 3,000 vehicles in a Michigan university town will help determine whether the U.S. next year mandates equipment that lets cars “talk” to each other.

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, pilot will test connected vehicles in traffic so the government can study how drivers use the technologies and how much safer they make driving. Information collected will help the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decide by next year whether to require such devices.

The test includes vehicles with wireless devices that, coupled with global positioning systems, let them communicate with cars and with roadside equipment to help prevent accidents and minimize congestion. Information on the location and speed of other vehicles would warn drivers about potential collisions as well as traffic jams, disabled vehicles and lane closures.

“Cars talking to other cars is the future of motor safety,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters today. The Ann Arbor pilot, he said, is the largest of its kind. “It gives drivers the information to make safe decisions while on the road. This experience can’t be duplicated in a lab,” he said.

The U.S. Transportation Department awarded the University of Michigan $14.9 million to conduct the test. The university equipped more than 73 lane miles of roadway as well as 2,850 vehicles, including cars, buses and commercial trucks.

Department’s Timetable

Any decisions in rule making won’t come for at least a year, LaHood said.

“Until we see data, until the study is complete, we won’t know with certainty what promise this really has,” LaHood said. “Will it save injuries? Will it save lives? And there’s always the cost factor. Safety always has a price.”

Automaker participants include Ford Motor Co. (F), General Motors Co. (GM), Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Daimler AG (DAI), Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) and Volkswagen AG. (VOW)

While no one involved with the test would say what form the technology may take until after data is collected, consumers can expect to see the equipment on vehicles at some point, Bill Konstantacos, vice president of Honda’s research and development unit in the Americas, said in an interview.

“We do think this is inevitable,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Clothier in Southfield, Michigan, at mclothier@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net.

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