DSRC is Best Suited for Collision Avoidance and Other Safety Applications

Over the past several decades, automakers have made tremendous strides in researching, developing, and bringing to market technologies that help protect vehicle occupants during crashes. However, despite these remarkable advances, there are still nearly 40,000 traffic-related fatalities each year in the United States. That’s why the auto industry is increasingly focused on not just protecting occupants, but also leveraging advanced technologies to help prevent crashes from happening in the first place. By helping vehicles identify potential hazards that are beyond the range or capability of sensor technology, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication has an important role to play in achieving this goal.

In 2013, the U.S Department of Transportation (USDOT), eight automakers, and the University of Michigan wrapped up a year-long Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Model Deployment (“Model Deployment”). The Model Deployment included approximately 3,000 vehicles from different manufacturers equipped with Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) technology. The Model Deployment was the culmination of years of research and development collaboration between USDOT and the private sector. This research collaboration was focused on the development and validation of a communication protocol that could serve as the backbone of a V2V and V2I network intended specifically for crash avoidance and other safety purposes.  From this public-private collaboration, DSRC was born.

After analyzing the real-world data from the Model Deployment, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) deemed it a success.  NHTSA noted that DSRC “can work in a real-world environment on actual roads with regular drivers” and, importantly, “among several vehicle types, vehicle models, and production lines.”

The success of the Model Deployment, combined with the finalization of consensus DSRC standards in 2015, laid the foundation for widespread deployment of DSRC-based V2V and V2I technology in the United States. Transportation departments across the country have invested, and are continuing to invest, in infrastructure to support DSRC. There are currently thousands of deployed or planned DSRC-enabled roadside units in dozens of states that support a variety of safety critical applications.

Automakers are committing as well.  In April 2018, Toyota announced that it will deploy DSRC systems on Toyota and Lexus vehicles sold in the U.S. starting in 2021, with a goal of adoption across most of its lineup by the mid-2020s. General Motors similarly began deploying DSRC in its vehicles in the U.S. starting last year and recently committed to expand deployment to its entire Cadillac portfolio. These are significant announcements by automakers that represent more than 30 percent of the U.S. market and build on additional significant deployments around the world. For example, Volkswagen – the market leader in Europe – has committed to deploying DSRC in its vehicles there starting in 2019.

DSRC is a proven, reliable and mature technology. While some are discussing or promoting other communication technologies for V2V and V2I purposes, neither industry nor government have encountered any technical reasons that would necessitate an alternative to DSRC.  Moreover, the truth is that none of these communication technologies exist today as a viable alternative. The “alternatives” are still under development and are, at best, years away from being ready for deployment. Moreover, before any of them could responsibly be used for crash-imminent safety purposes, they would have to be validated with the same rigor and at the same scale as DSRC has already been validated. At a minimum, that would mean even further delay in realizing the expected safety benefits of V2Vand V2I communication.

Besides, if the market becomes fragmented into multiple, non-interoperable V2V and V2I technologies, the safety benefits will diminish drastically. For a crash avoidance network to function, all vehicles operating on that network need to be speaking the same language. The Federal Communications Commission noted in its 2003 Report & Order on DSRC that the importance of interoperability to realizing the societal and individual benefits of crash avoidance applications “cannot be underestimated.” We certainly agree.

Adopting DSRC for collision avoidance and other related safety purposes does not prevent or limit usage of other communication technologies, including cellular technology for long-range vehicle connectivity. However, when it comes to short-range, direct V2V and V2I communication specifically for collision avoidance and other related safety purposes, DSRC is the only communication technology that is ready for prime time.

For an opposing view, see this op-ed from Jessica Nigro, General Manager, Technology and Innovation Policy for Daimler North America Corp.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.


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