'Smart Car' Tech Encouraged in U.S.

ByNedra Pickler

W A S H I N G T O N, July 19, 2000 -- The federal government is challenging the autoindustry to step up efforts to develop “smart” vehicles that usetechnology to help drivers avoid accidents.

More than three-quarters of all accidents are to due to drivererror, according to the National Highway Traffic SafetyAdministration. Better technology would dramatically reduce thatnumber, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said today.

Smart technology — high-tech cruise control, crash-avoidancesystems, night-vision enhancements — already are available asadd-ons to some high-end vehicles.

Slater set a goal of 10 years for the auto industry to installthe technology in at least 10 percent of all passenger vehicles and25 percent of commercial vehicles sold in the United States.

Tech May Help Reduce Accidents

Smart technology “means real possibilities not just forreducing injuries and fatalities from crashes, but eliminating themall together,” Slater said. “What it means for transportation inAmerica and around the world is literally something we cannotfathom.”

Bob Lange, engineering director of the General Motors Corp.Safety Center, said Slater’s goal for broadening smart technologyis reachable.

“That probably is not unreasonable, and it may even be possibleto exceed that goal if we as manufacturers are able to make themaffordable,” he said. “We think there is consumer demand forthem.”

Toyota, Ford, Mercedes and Jaguar already offer “adaptivecruise control” on some vehicles. It tracks the car ahead, slowingdown and speeding up automatically to maintain a safe distance invariable highway traffic.

Eaton Corp.’s VORAD — Vehicle Onboard Radar — detects stationaryobjects through fog, rain, snow, darkness and smoke. It is beingused on some commercial trucks.

New ‘Smart’ Options in Development

General Motors offers a night vision system as an option on itsDeVille Cadillacs that uses infrared technology to detect people oranimals in the darkness or past the glare of an oncoming car’sheadlights. The images are projected in black and white on aTV-like small screen that is projected on the windshield.

Honda has said it is developing an Intelligent Driver Supportsystem, which will “see” the road through a tiny camera on thewindshield and help steer the car down the middle of its lane. Acomputer picks out lines on the highway surface and nudges thecar’s steering wheel in the right direction.

Other forms of smart technology also are being developed.

Communication systems at intersections, perhaps contained in theroad or traffic signals, could detect the position and motion ofvehicles. The system would alert systems in oncoming vehicles sothey could avoid dangerous situations.

Preventing Dangerous Situations

“This will soon become the norm for people traveling in areasthat are more congested,” said Roger King, spokesman for theIntelligent Transportation Society of America. “This relies onrelatively inexpensive, albeit sophisticated technologies that aregoing into vehicles now.”

Slater was the keynote speaker at a Society of AutomotiveEngineers meeting dedicated to the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative,a 9-year-old government-industry program aimed at improvingautomobile technology.

Slater announced that the Department of Transportation and GMwill spend $150,000 to look into ways to link global positioningtechnology already available in some cars with emergency services.The aim of the National Mayday Readiness Initiative is to speedemergency help to accident victims.

“All too often, crash victims die or their injuries become morecritical because no one who could help knew that the crash occurredor the EMS personnel couldn’t locate the crash site,” Slater said.

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