'Smart' Vehicles Put to the Test

DOT will spend the next three years testing an intelligent vehicle operational system that warns drivers when they've left the road.

Until now, a car or truck was generally as "smart" as the person behind the wheel. That might be changing.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is launching a test of an intelligent vehicle operational system designed to help drivers avoid run-off-the-road crashes. The system warns drivers when they are about to drift off the road and crash into an obstacle or are traveling too fast for an upcoming curve.

"Too many lives are lost on our nation''s highways, and this initiative is another step toward improving highway safety through the use of new technologies," U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said. "The Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) system studied in this test is intended to help save lives and reduce injuries by preventing crashes before they occur."

The system warns of an imminent collision, but the driver retains control of the vehicle. The system operates on straight and curved paved roads as well as day or night and in light rain.

Run-off-the-road crashes account for more than 20 percent of all police-reported crashes (1.2 million a year) and more than 41 percent of all in-vehicle fatalities (15,000 a year). The test system has the potential to prevent run-off-the-road crashes caused by driver inattention, distraction, drowsiness, and excessive speed.

The test will involve about 120 drivers, ranging in age from 18 to 70, who will use 10 equipped cars for several weeks each in the Detroit region of southeast Michigan. The test, scheduled to last three years, will follow about 120 drivers. They will spend several weeks driving cars equipped with the system. On-road testing is scheduled to start in 2003.

The tests will assess the ability of the system technology to support its commercial deployment, predict driver acceptance, and evaluate the safety implications of deployment.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Visteon Corp. in Dearborn, Mich., and AssistWare Technology Inc. in Wexford, Penn, are partners in the test. Navigation Technologies, a company based in Chicago, will supply the map database, a critical component of the system. The $18.5 million cost of the test is split between public and private sector partners.

For additional information, visit DOT''s ITS Web site at www.its.dot.gov.

by Sandy Smith

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