A new experimental program taking place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, right now may portend the future of ‘safe driving’ for all of us. The $25 million program, sponsored and monitored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan, is designed to increase the ability of standard vehicles to understand where they are and communicate with other vehicles on the road with them about where they are going.
Nearly three thousand passenger cars and trucks have been outfitted with special software and hardware, including GPS devices. The vehicles are then equipped with driver warning systems so if the driver makes a sudden stop, or turns unexpectedly (or even slowly and safely) it will automatically notify other vehicles in the area which can determine whether or not the driver should be warned.
“Danger, car ahead is slowing” is an example of how the system might work.
This is not an experiment in autonomous vehicle control. Control of these vehicles remains with the driver. It will be up to the driver to react promptly to any warnings which are issued.
The experiment in Ann Arbor is scheduled to last a full 12 months. During that time the vehicles will be carefully monitored and drivers will be surveyed to determine how the system responds. Obviously they will also be tracking all vehicle crashes which occur during the course of the experiment in an effort to understand the exact cause of any vehicle collisions which do occur.
Automobile manufacturers are investigating a variety of systems designed to increase safety on the roads. Among these various systems are fully autonomous vehicle control, or self-driving cars; and semi-autonomous systems which is akin to an enhanced cruise control feature now available on some models of Cadillac. Eventually the industry seems certain to discover what works best, and begin to shift all vehicles to that standard. Until then it seems likely we will see a mix of full autonomous, partially autonomous, and good ol’ fashioned “driver only” vehicles on the road, all trying to be as safe as possible.