On Oct. 21, 2011, a car accident killed a young woman near my home at the intersection of Dougherty Ferry and Des Peres Road when a taxi purportedly failed to yield to oncoming traffic while making a left turn.
Someday, car-to-car and car-to-stoplight wireless communication will prevent this kind of accident from ever happening again. (Search "left turn assistant" on YouTube.)
But will that someday be in 10 years, or 30 years?
Road design has changed little since the creation of the autobahn and stoplights early in the last century. Our road system depends on funhouse rumble strips and giant Forest Gump-style WRONG WAY signs to prevent serious accidents.
America had 33,000 traffic deaths last year — nearly the equivalent of a 9/11 disaster every month. A new AAA study concluded that car crashes cost the U.S. $300 billion each year.
Connected car technology can bring substantial reductions in both of these numbers — by 80 percent according to the U.S. Transportation Department.
Car-to-car digital wireless communication allows all cars within range of each other to exchange information on location, speed, direction of travel, etc., automatically. With this information, cars can determine if drivers are taking actions necessary to avoid crashes.
If they are not, onboard computers can activate braking as a last resort — not unlike anti-lock brakes — to avoid a collision. Researchers are conducting an experiment with 60 cars in Ann Arbor, Mich., right now, but at a government funding level of only $15 million.
Similarly, car-to-roadside communication can make sure a car stays centered in the lane, and it can link a car to an upcoming stoplight. Then an onboard computer can ensure the car not only does not run the red light, it can display the speed the driver should maintain to arrive at the light at the next green cycle, saving gas.
In short, this technology has the potential to allow you to drive as you always have, but supply your car with enough information to prevent it from ever hitting another car or object or ever allowing you to lose control of your vehicle.
Reduced insurance premiums alone can easily repay accelerated government investment. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Americans spent more than $160 billion on private passenger car insurance in 2010. Private industry will develop this technology on its own eventually, but not for our generation. Serious government investment can advance this transforming technology dramatically, as it did for the Internet, GPS navigation, and small cell phone processors.
To marshal the focus and resources required for implementation, we need a bold national goal and schedule. Here is what I propose:
DANCE 2022 — Digital Automobile Network for Crash Elimination by 2022:
Commit funding to reduce automobile deaths in the U.S. to current airplane levels — no more than 500 per year — through full implementation of car-to-car and car-to-roadside digital wireless communication in one U.S. city and one interstate highway within five years — 2017, and in all U.S. cities and all interstate highways within 10 years — 2022.
As President Kennedy said, "Now it is time to take longer strides."
Gary Kerie is an engineer at Boeing and lives in Des Peres with his wife and 15-year-old daughter, who just got her Missouri Learner's Permit. www.facebook.com/dance2022