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NTSB wants federal standards on vehicle-to-vehicle communication

Investigators view the scene of a school bus crash in Chesterfield, N.J., Feb. 16, 2012. The National Transportation Safety Board said in a report on the accident that the government needs to set standards for technology that allows cars and truck to talk with each other. (Associated Press: MATT ROURKE)

The Associated Press


WASHINGTON — The government should set performance standards for new safety technology that allows cars and trucks to talk to each other and then require the technology be installed in all new vehicles, a federal accident investigation board recommended July 23.

The National Transportation Safety Board made the recommendation in response to fatal school bus accidents at intersections in New Jersey and Florida last year.

Vehicles equipped with the technology can continuously communicate over wireless networks, exchanging information on location, direction and speed 10 times a second. The vehicle’s computer analyzes the information and issues danger warnings to drivers, often before they can see the other vehicle.

The technology is effective up to a range of about 1,000 feet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been road-testing the technology in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the past year, including technology involving heavy-duty vehicles. NHTSA officials have said they hope to make a decision on whether to proceed to setting standards or whether to continue their research by the end of this year.

“This technology more than anything else holds great promise to protect lives and prevent injuries,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. That was particularly true of crashes at intersections like the two school bus accidents, she added.

But an auto industry official said the board was acting precipitously.

“The technology is still being assessed,” said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “It’s too early to call for a mandate.”

From 2002 to 2011, nearly 87,000 people were killed in accidents at intersections, accounting for 22 percent of overall traffic fatalities, investigators said.

In the New Jersey accident in February 2012, a dump truck slammed into the rear left side of a school bus at an intersection near Chesterfield, spinning the bus around until it collided with a pole. An 11-year-old girl was killed and five other students were seriously injured.

The next month in Port St. Lucie, Fla., a semi tractor-trailer truck hit a school bus on a side toward the rear, spinning the bus around. One student was killed and four others were seriously injured.

The board was meeting to determine the probable cause of the New Jersey accident and to make safety recommendations. Findings from the previously concluded Florida accident investigation were also considered because of the similarities in the two crashes. The New Jersey accident was caused by the school bus driver’s failure to note the oncoming dump truck when he pulled into the intersection, the board said. The bus driver had stopped part way into the intersection to get a better view of traffic coming from the left — the direction from which the dump truck was traveling — and should have been able to see the truck, investigators said.

Instead, the driver proceeded fully into the intersection. The board concluded that the bus driver experienced “inattention blindness” — he saw, but didn’t register that he was seeing, a truck coming, because he was suffering from fatigue and the sedating effects of several prescription medications. 

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