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Cost may slow development of connected cars

Connected cars may prevent accidents.
Connected cars may prevent accidents.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says advanced technology connecting vehicles on the road will save lives, but he’s concerned about the cost.

“We know it’s going the save lives,” LaHood said in Ann Arbor last week after opening the University of Michigan’s Symposium on Connected Cars. “We know this technology is going to help people avoid accidents.”

LaHood, who is leaving the administration after four years, said it’s up to automakers to figure out how much a connected car system will cost.

DOT has been experimenting with nearly 3,000 connected “smart” vehicles on the streets of Ann Arbor since August in a $25 million project with eight major carmakers. Sensors installed in the vehicles provide information to other vehicles on road and weather conditions and vehicle-to-vehicle communications could someday help avoid collisions.

“Cost hasn’t really been a factor at this point,” he said. “But ultimately, it will be.”

Cars may someday be electronically connected to traffic networks, and to each other.

The watchdog National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has requested $2 million for a new office to study self-driving cars and to ensure vehicles electronically connected to traffic networks, and to each other, can’t be hacked.

“NHTSA recognizes the challenge and the growing onboard potential for remotely compromising vehicle security through software and increased onboard communications services,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday. “With electronics systems assuming safety critical roles in nearly all vehicle controls, we are facing the need to develop general requirements.”

In Ann Arbor, LaHood also touted the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposal to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for drunken driving to 0.05 from the current 0.08 limit and raise the drinking age from 18 to 21.

For a 130-pound woman that’s about two glasses of wine consumed within an hour and for an average size man that’s about three drinks.

“I think everybody knows that 0.08 is the standard,” LaHood told WWJ-AM, Detroit. “I think there will be a big debate over whether to go to a different standard or not.”

The NTSB voted 5-0 to recommend lowering the DUI standard to reduce the nearly 10,000 drunken driving traffic fatalities each year.

“It’s going to happen. We don’t know how long it will take, but it will happen,” NTSB development division head Robert Molloy told The Detroit News. NTSB estimates drunken driving — blamed for 31 percent of all traffic deaths — costs society $130 billion a year.

NTSB says a driver with a 0.05 blood alcohol level has a 38 percent higher risk of being in an accident compared to a driver who has not been drinking. The current blood alcohol limit for commercial drivers is 0.04.

The recommendation does not have universal support, including that of the Obama administration and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland said there’s insufficient data to support the NTSB’s proposal for dropping the blood alcohol content limit to 0.05.

“At this point, we don’t have any data on 0.05 BAC,” he told reporters. Strickland said more data is needed before his agency can make a recommendation to Congress.

“Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior,” Sarah Longwell of The American Beverage Institute, a trade group representing restaurants, said in a release. “Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association says states should ensure drivers convicted of DUI have to blow on an alcohol ignition interlock device to prove they are sober before they can start their vehicles. NTSB wants all 50 states to require the interlock devices in vehicles of all motorists convicted of driving under the influence.

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