View Count: 93 |  Publish Date: August 30, 2013
Officials near breakthrough on 'connected' vehicles
Paul Nussbaum, Inquirer Staff WriterPosted: Friday, August 30, 2013, 1:08 AM
After its investigation of a South Jersey school bus accident that killed 11-year-old Isabelle Tezsla, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended last month that all new vehicles be equipped with crash-avoidance technology to prevent similar tragedies.
On Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it could be at the verge of a breakthrough in such technology to allow vehicles to communicate with each other and transform the nations surface transportation safety, mobility and environmental performance.
The NHTSA has just completed a yearlong test in Ann Arbor, Mich., with 3,000 cars, trucks, and buses connected by Wi-Fi to help avoid crashes and improve traffic flow.
That kind of connected-vehicle technology might have prevented the accident that killed Tezsla, a triplet daughter of New Jersey State Police Trooper Anthony Tezsla. More coverageNJ Transit offers early bus, train serviceSEPTA finds a consumer sweet spot in tweetsPhilly law firms clash over SEPTA bus adsMore Transportation news
The Burlington County girl was killed in February 2012 when the school bus in which she was riding was struck at a Chesterfield Township intersection by a dump truck and knocked into a utility pole.
Seventeen other children on the bus, including Tezslas sisters, were injured.
The bus driver, who was fatigued and on multiple medications, pulled in front of the oncoming truck, according to the NTSB investigation. He told investigators he did not see the truck.
If the truck and bus had been equipped with electronic vehicle-to-vehicle data collectors and transmitters, the bus driver could have received a warning of the approaching truck.
This technology holds great promise to protect lives and prevent injuries, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman said last month during the agencys public review of the accident.
The NTSB recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration develop minimum performance standards for connected vehicle technology.
With those standards in place, the NHTSA should then require the technology to be installed on all newly manufactured highway vehicles, the NTSB said.
Such technology could help drivers avoid or reduce the severity of 80 percent of unimpaired vehicle crashes, NHTSA said.
The yearlong road test in Ann Arbor has provided the NHTSA, an agency of the federal Department of Transportation, with all of the critical information it needs to inform the agencys decision on whether to proceed with additional activities, including research, rulemaking, or a combination of the two, the NHTSA said Thursday.
How soon such technology might be required in cars and how much it might cost are open questions.
Carmakers have warned that technology is not the only hurdle.
Consumer acceptance, standard performance requirements, and legal liability also will have to be addressed, the carmakers lobbyist told the Senate Transportation Committee in May.
Perhaps the most challenging is the resolution of a litany of complex legal issues that are associated with cars and trucks capable of operating with increasing levels of automation, said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
Liability for accidents could shift from drivers to carmakers, meaning the question of who is responsible when, for what, will need to be addressed, Bainwol said.
Drexel University computer-science professor Dario Salvucci, who studies auto technology and its effects on drivers, predicted cars would be communicating more with each other and with their drivers within just a few years.
Its clearly not pie in the sky. This is a freight train coming at us, Salvucci said Thursday. It has enormous potential to be good or bad, depending on how its implemented.
The biggest challenge is trying to determine what information a driver should have at any particular time.
Lots of small, relatively unimportant pieces of information could distract drivers from the vital job of driving, he said.
Its pretty clear that connected vehicles are coming . . . and we have to weigh the benefits vs. the costs, Salvucci said. A lot of care needs to be put into how the technology is used. The issues of driver distraction are very concerning, and hopefully, the laws will reflect that.
Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or
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