NHTSA Speaks Up about a V2V Mandate but Remains Silent on Timing

The U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had been promising for many years to make a decision on a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) mandate in the US before the end of 2013. It missed that deadline, but on February 3rd 2014 it announced it will soon start work on “….a regulatory proposal that would require V2V devices in new vehicles in a future year…”.  Work on legislation will start following the publication in the next coming weeks of a research report summarizing findings of the V2V trial that took place in Ann Arbor in 2013 with close to 3000 vehicles involved.   The full text of the press release can be found here.

What can be made of this announcement? I have been looking into telematics mandates for too many years seeing too many delays, twists, and turns to consider NHTSA’s statement  as a guarantee that vehicles in the US will be shipping with V2V technology any time soon, if ever. The only thing the announcement says is that work on legislation will start soon. It does neither specify an objective for when the legislation proposal will be finalized, nor when it will be approved, let alone in which year the mandate will come into force. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx did specify during the press conference the aim is to have the legislation proposal developed " before the administration closes its doors in early 2017 ”. In any case, allowing sufficient time for the automotive industry to prepare for the mandate, it should certainly not be expected to come into force before the end of this decade.  

The NHTSA PR does however provide clarifications and answers to some questions. The legislation will only apply to light vehicles. Quite a few observers had been speculating on commercial vehicles coming first. And it will apply only to new vehicles, not to existing ones, though the thorny issue of low V2V penetration levels in the absence of any aftermarket provision will now certainly be raised again. Finally, the legislation will only cover V2V, not V2I (Vehicle-to-Infrastructure) via which cars can communicate with traffic lights, digital signage and other roadside equipment and which would have offered benefits from day one, even with low in-vehicle penetration levels.    

While NHTSA heavily emphasizes the safety benefits of V2V through collision detection and crash avoidance and its complementarity with ADAS (which might be the subject of separate legislation), V2V is also expected to play an important role in autonomous driving technology, though this remains somewhat controversial.

In the press release NHTSA goes to great length to remove any concerns about privacy and security. It also highlights the reliability, interoperability, and customer acceptance of V2V as some of the main findings of the Ann Arbor trial.

How will the automotive industry react? Confidence in the dedicated DSRC protocol designed for V2X will no doubt get a boost, something which was badly needed, but in the absence of a firm time table, concrete action will not materialize yet with many (smaller) car OEMs staying in a wait and see (when) attitude. A more defined and definite framework needs to be put in place to kick-start the V2V ecosystem. Nonetheless, NHTSA’s announcement is an important endorsement for V2V technology, and, for the time being, gives a new lease of life to cooperative transportation systems.