It will take a while to see realistic, fully-functional, driverless yellow buses on America’s road, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s proposed rule to mandate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications for light-duty vehicles is a step towards that goal, industry insiders told School Transportation News.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation would enable V2V communication technology on all newly manufactured passenger cars and trucks. It would allow the vehicles to “talk” to each other on the road by sharing data, such as direction, location and speed, as well as incorporating other new crash-avoidance technology like lane departure warnings and automatic braking.
NHTSA said the data would be updated and broadcast up to 10 times per second to nearby vehicles. Using that information, V2V-equipped vehicles can identify risks and provide warnings to drivers to avoid imminent crashes. Vehicles that contain automated driving functions, such as automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, could also benefit from the use of V2V data to better avoid or reduce the consequences of crashes.
“Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road and will help us enhance vehicle safety,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Speculation around school bus industry gatherings this past year has centered on the prospect of autonomous vehicles, especially after Foxx’s announcement that the feds would move forward with plans to develop national standards and to deploy autonomous test vehicles. Research performed by Google, Tesla and others, including those in the commercial truck sector, have furthered the thought that the technology will one day, and perhaps one day soon, be made available to school buses.
An industry expert with specific knowledge of V2V technology who asked to remain anonymous said that medium- and heavy-duty version of the V2V proposal should be forthcoming, and they will likely be based on the public reaction to NHTSA’s proposal for light-duty vehicles.
The catch is how the incoming Trump administration will respond. The expert said the promise of V2V communications and autonomous driving improving transportation system safety and efficiency without adding a lot of physical infrastructure costs will likely keep the proposal “at the forefront.”
Another industry expert speaking anonymously cited recent developments in crash avoidance, braking assist, motion sensors, front and rear camera systems and stability control as the signals that driverless school buses, at least in part, are on the horizon.
According to this expert, the truck market is on the verge of a "sea change," or a broad transformation, when it comes to semi-autonomous devices becoming available and then finding its way onto the school bus.
NHTSA’s light-duty announcement comes at a time when federal transportation officials bemoan a spike over the past year to more than 35,000 people killed nationwide in traffic-related crashes. At the same time, seat-belt usage is at its highest rate ever at 90 percent. So, the thinking goes, connected vehicles—and perhaps, autonomous vehicles—promise to greatly reduce fatalities tied to crashes by removing driver error and distraction.
“Advanced vehicle technologies may well prove to be the silver bullet in saving lives on our roadways,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind during Tuesday’s announcement. “V2V and automated vehicle technologies each hold great potential to make our roads safer, and when combined, their potential is untold.”
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