Will Vehicle-2-Vehicle Communication improve cyclist safety?

Summary: US NHTSA will likely require Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication systems for new light vehicles in 2017 to improve vehicle safety and decrease travel time. So far, we have seen very little discussion on how V2V will impact safety or convenience for cyclists and pedestrians. Although cyclist and pedestrian safety is rarely addressed in current V2V discussion, there are opportunities for improved safety for cyclists and pedestrians in V2V systems. Convenience for road users without connected technology, however, will possibly be sacrificed in a V2V world unless advocates speak up now.

In August 2014, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published an advance notice of a proposed rulemaking regarding Vehicle-To-Vehicle (V2V) communication systems. The NHTSA anticipates a new Federal standard that mandates V2V systems for new cars and light trucks beginning in the year 2017.

V2V illustration

V2V technology enables vehicles to communicate with each other. V2V promoters and developers say the technology will improve safety while also reducing driving time and enabling autonomous vehicles. One way V2V can improve the all important level of service for drivers, for example, is by eliminating traffic signals and stop signs and replacing them with collision avoidance protocols as vehicles thread past each other at intersections.

The hotshot daredevil on wheels might find this game of Frogger exhilerating, but it may intimidate and frustrate the “eight to eighty” cyclist. Per usual, more vulnernable users are thrown under the Vehicular Traffic Level-of-Service bus as their need to use a shared roadway is almost completely ignored.

The NHTSA received nearly 1,000 comments regarding this proposed rulemaking from members of the public, from state agencies, vehicle manufacturers and lobbying groups during the comment period that closed on October 2014. Of those comments, 23 mention the possible impact to pedestrians, and ten mention bicycles. Most of those 22 are about evenly split between those who believe all pedestrians and cyclists will always carry a mobile device to participate in the V2V cloud in what they call V2X (vehicle to “other”) technology, and those who believe the increase in non-ionizing microwave radiation somehow increases the risk of brain cancer.

I applaud those small handful of individuals who recognized the possible danger to pedestrians and cyclists and submitted their passionate comments to the Federal government. “Shannon Anonymous” wrote, for example:

I don’t see anybody asking, “could this backfire?” Has anyone considered if people might become too reliant upon this system? Will they be less alert overall, possibly increasing accidents with pedestrians, bicycles, and animals? Oh yeah, you say it will work for people not in cars because our mobile devices can interact with it… but not everyone carries a mobile device! Especially not KIDS… who are the most vulnerable pedestrians (size and mass making them harder to see and more easily damaged if hit). So, we can’t assume that even all cars will have the system, better all the non-cars. Does this increase risk overall? If not, does it increase risk to some groups?

Another member of the public, Professional Engineer Eric Paul Dennis, writes:

It is unethical to put people at greater risk if they refuse (or forget) to wear an electronic location device every time they come near a public roadway. For example, absent a DSRC device, patrons of a sidewalk cafe would be invisible to the system, a person collecting the morning paper would be at risk, or taking the trash can to the curb. A child crossing the street without a DSRC transmitter would be more at risk than a child with one. The whole concept should be reconsidered.

The idea that DSRC will benefit pedestrian and bicycle safety is ridiculous. Human beings should not have to be on a network just to safely exist near a public street.

As far as I’ve found, the Wisconsin DOT is the only agency or organization to point out the presence of pedestrians, bicycles, and even “implements of husbandry” on public roadways. Big kudos to them for this.

NHTSA proposed rulemaking addresses “passenger cars and light truck vehicles.” This does not appear to include other vehicles on the roadway, particularly motorcycles and vulnerable users such as bicyclists or pedestrians. In Wisconsin in 2012, there were 171 fatalities involving a motorcycle (116), a pedestrian (44) or a bicycle (11). This represented 28% of all fatalities on Wisconsin public roads. Deployment of V2V technology that ignores motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians will ignore a significant safety issue. Drivers who rely on V2V technology may not understand how to interact around motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Wisconsin and other agricultural states have significant seasonal traffic from Implements of Husbandry (IoH) that are largely unlicensed and unregulated. There are also Amish buggies and other slow-moving vehicles on public roadways. In 2012, there were 187 reportable crashes involving IoH, buggies or slow-moving vehicles in Wisconsin with 3 fatalities.

Toyota presented an interesting enhancement in their system under development at their Toyota InfoTechnology Center in Mountain View, California. In addition to vehicle position and speed, DSRC (their name for V2V) communicates the presence of other detected “hazards” to nearby vehicles, such as pedestrians, cyclists, animals, a disabled vehicle and so forth.

With automakers already implementing V2V type features in their cars in anticipation of a 2017 rulemaking, this juggernaut is likely sailing. Advocates for bicycle safety should lean hard on Federal and State DOTs to ensure more vulernable road users are treated not just as mere “road hazards” to be avoided, but that we can use roadways as intended users without the use of expensive, connected technology just so we can cross the road.

I am for the option for cyclists to participate in a V2V world with connected technology such as that demonstrated POC, Ericcson and Volvo at CES 2015, but I am completely against any requirement for such technology, or even the expectation that walkers and cyclists should carry such technology for less liability in a traffic collision.

Besides a requirement for mobile technology for walkers and cyclists, I think we can expect hokey workarounds from car-headed traffic engineers, and we should push back. Children walking to school shouldn’t have to wear flourescent vests, wave orange flags, or activate flashing emergency beacons just for permission to cross a street they already have the legal right to access, neither should they be required to carry radio transponders for this access. I think we can anticipate more pedestrian “beg buttons” to request a green light at an intersection with a two minute delay for the crossing signal. This is considered a level-of-service “F” for motor vehicle traffic; pedestrians and cyclists should demand the same level of service as automobiles at intersections.

What other clumsy workarounds can we expect to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian traffic in a V2V world?

H/T to < ahref="https://www.google.com/+RJLalumiere">RJ Lalumiere for bringing this to my attention. To learn more about V2V, visit the NHTSA V2V website.

10 Comments

  • January 16, 2015 - 12:32 pm | Permalink

    The idea that people should carry a device to keep “smart” vehicles from hitting them is a nightmare, both philosophically and logistically.

  • January 16, 2015 - 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Even if someone chooses to carry a cell phone, it doesn’t mean the battery would not die while they are still on the road.

  • JohnnyK
    January 16, 2015 - 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I think this is all dream land Pie in the sky kind of stuff. First of all to force a pedestrians to carry some locating beacon would be just unethical and an invasion of privacy. Any device that tracks another human should be the choice of that human not some government BS even if it is in the name of safety. Why not just make all cars fly then you will not need roads? If that question strikes terror in your heart well it should because that is how I see this V2V nonsense. Pie in the Sky! Just lower speed limits, hold people accountable for their actions, and stop building larger and larger roads.

  • Dave F
    January 16, 2015 - 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m a little upset with the bicycle advocacy groups that did not make us aware of the comment opportunity if it is true there were only 22 comments. This is the first time I had heard about this and I keep up with lots of advocacy stuff and support a few organizations enough that I receive emails for donations. I hope I have the wrong impression and this was not an unfortunate miss.

  • January 16, 2015 - 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I think we were all caught flat-footed on this. I only found this after Googling for more information when I saw a CNN story about how drivers can save time with this V2V technology.

    I try to scan the Federal Register when I can, but the Federal government generated over 32,000 pages of new rules and proposed rules last year, so it’s very easy to miss this stuff.

  • January 17, 2015 - 11:50 am | Permalink

    I too am disappointed that I missed the public commentary section and I think I may give NHTSA a call now to give them my comments and an ear full about not giving more announcement of this MAJOR CHANGE…I mean this pretty much erases everything we knew and re-writes our roads and how we need to interact with them. This is huge news and it is unacceptable to just sneak it in like that.

    Way to go Wisconsin being the only government to think about vulnerable users.

  • Bike-Scoot
    January 17, 2015 - 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I can just see it now…In addition to “not wearing a helmet”, reporters will add “was not using a DSRC”. For sure this will be used to blame victims.

    The pharmaceutical industry spends decades on each new drugs, following rigorous established protocols to prove safety. On the other hand, the automotive industry, when it comes to things like dashboard infotainment systems, and now V2V, just gets to throw them out in the real world and just ‘see what happens’ to VRUs.

  • January 17, 2015 - 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I read this article just yesterday about a cyclist in Colorado who was rear-ended at 35mph. Miraculously he was able to stand up, talk, walk, and was pretty much fine after the crash. That is, until CHP showed up and gave him a bullshit $24 ticket because the officer felt, without any evidence, that he was in the middle of the lane. Now let’s stop here, last I heard bikes were allowed to do that and not be rear-ended for it. Apparently not in Colorado, and after V2V happens it just gives them another tool for victim blaming, well said.

    http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/01/news/road/notes-scrum-thing-love-can-kill_358177

  • January 18, 2015 - 6:50 am | Permalink

    Unless the USG intends to ban collectible cars such as my 1967 Jaguar XKE, we will be in “mixed mode” for at least a century. Per wellsuited, I’m sure there will still be idiot cops then as well.

  • January 20, 2015 - 1:59 pm | Permalink

    And don’t forget your uncle’s Red Barchetta.

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