Up to 8.1 million car crashes and 44,000 deaths could be prevented if the federal government mandated connected vehicle technology now, rather than waiting even three years to develop and evaluate competing technologies.
That’s according to a new analysis by the U-M Transportation Research Institute. The research shows the extent to which delays of five or seven years would lead to even greater costs in terms of crashes, injuries and fatalities.
“Connected vehicle technology has been demonstrated to dramatically improve safety on our roads and highways, and every year that we wait to put it in place, we’re losing tens of thousands of lives,” said Jim Sayer, director of UMTRI and co-author of a white paper published recently.
A delay in federal rulemaking
The leading technology for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC. Similar to Wi-Fi, this specialized communication technology lets vehicles securely share data about their location, direction and speed at the rate of 10 messages per second, and at a distance of up to 1,500 feet.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed that DSRC be standard in all new light-duty vehicles. These rules, and the technology behind them, have been in the making for more than 20 years, when the Federal Communications Commission first set aside wireless spectrum to DSRC for transportation applications.
The capability has undergone more than 10 years of testing, Sayer said, including on the streets of Ann Arbor, and increasingly in states and communities across the U.S. as well as internationally.
Through the “living laboratory” of the U-M-led Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment, thousands of vehicles across the city have been communicating with one another and infrastructure.
Model year 2017-18 was expected to be the year DSRC appeared in new cars nationwide, Sayer said. But the rule, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 150, has not moved in the USDOT since the end of the Obama administration.
In the meantime, a newer technology, called C-V2X, is emerging from the cellular industry. Its supporters say it has a longer range and enhanced versatility. But the UMTRI paper argues that we can’t afford to go back to the drawing board and wait for another technology to develop.
“There is no similar federal rule for C-V2X and no wireless spectrum allocation,” Sayer said. “Nor has there been the equivalent amount of testing or development of C-V2X. As such, while DSRC is technically ready for deployment today, C-V2X would need a yet-unknown amount of additional time to develop, test, propose standards and develop proposed rulemaking for.”
The analysis and findings
Sayer considered scenarios under which connected vehicle rulemaking delays continued while C-V2X is evaluated, leading to inaction for three, five or seven years.
He and his co-authors estimated 3.7 million light vehicle-to-vehicle crashes annually, with an injury-per-crash rate of roughly 42 percent, and a fatality-per-crash rate of .06 percent. Those numbers are based on 2011 USDOT statistics.
They also assumed similar market penetration and effectiveness, regardless of whether DSRC or C-V2X were implemented. The penetration rate was held at 0.045 percent of the total vehicle fleet annually, which represents all new vehicles on the road. For effectiveness, they incorporated models that projected 25 percent and 75 percent effectiveness — leading to the range of estimates.
The analyses calculated that implementing connected vehicle technology in 2019 versus:
• A three-year delay of 2022 could prevent 7.4 million-8.1 million crashes; 2.8 million-3.1 million injuries; and 40,717-44,558 deaths.
• A five-year delay of 2024 could prevent 12.6 million-13.6 million crashes; 4.8 million-5.1 million injuries; and 69,556-75,098 deaths.
• A seven-year delay of 2026 could prevent 17.9 million-19.1 million crashes, 6.8 million-7.2 million injuries; 99,338-105,746 deaths.
“Given current crash, injury and fatality rates, the cumulative lost opportunity of not mandating DSRC now represents roughly one full year’s worth of fatalities, injuries and crashes that occur on U.S. roadways that could otherwise be prevented,” Sayer said.
“These analyses clearly illustrate the negative consequences of waiting for the potential of a different technical communications solution. If, as a society, we keep waiting for something better to come along, we will always be in a waiting mode — and hence nothing will get deployed.”