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U.S. tests talking smart cars that prevent crashes

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Could bolt-on wireless technology keep drivers out of accidents?

Researchers hope they can reduce car accidents by enabling vehicles to communicate with each other through smart technology.

In a year-long safety pilot run by the state's Transportation Research Institute and the University of Michigan, 3000 vehicles are being connected in Ann Arbor.

The cars are fitted with wireless devices that send out signals, warning drivers of potential hazards including cars speeding through red lights, unexpected braking or traffic jams. Location, direction and speed information is shared, as well as car activity around intersections, curves and the Ann Arbor highway.

If a hazard is detected, a visual or audible warning notifies the driver. Cars, trucks and transit buses have been fitted with the devices.

The messages travel car-to-car through 75MHz in the 5.9GHz spectrum band reserved by the FTC. This spectrum is specifically for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.

A number of car manufacturers have supplied vehicles for the test, including Honda, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen.

According to the university, so-called 'smart car technology' could reduce accident rates for typical drivers by as much as 80 percent. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the university hope that the $25 million project will help reduce accidents and the data gleaned from the vehicles will prove useful in improving driver safety.

"This is a big day for safety," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at an event launching the scheme. "We'll use this information to decide if vehicle technology can be applied to daily lives."

According to the DOT, over 32,000 people died in the U.S. last year in traffic accidents.

Roughly 500 vehicles are on the road, and officials say the figure is expected to reach 2,800 within six weeks.

The video below explains how this technology is used to improve driver safety.

Image credit: Oregon State Police

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure