USDOT Calls for Connected Vehicle Mandate; Security and Privacy Concerns Remain

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today it would chart a regulatory path that would require all new automobiles to be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems sometime in the next several years. This follows a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that connected vehicle technology be mandated on all new vehicles.

V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) safety systems could provide large safety benefits in the future. Unfortunately, DOT has jumped the gun, requiring systems while large challenges remain, particularly issues related to data privacy and security.

A November 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides a good description of what DOT is attempting to do:

DOT and the automobile industry have been conducting research on new types of technologies to prevent crashes—called vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technologies—in recent years. These technologies facilitate the sharing of data, such as vehicle speed and location, among vehicles to warn drivers of potential collisions. Based on the data shared, V2V technologies are capable of warning drivers of imminent collisions, including some that sensor-based crash avoidance technologies would be unable to detect. DOT’s efforts related to these technologies are being led by NHTSA and the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office within DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). According to NHTSA, if V2V technologies are widely deployed, they have the potential to address 76 percent of multi-vehicle crashes involving at least one light vehicle by providing warnings to drivers.

Sounds good, right? But there are big challenges to V2V deployment, of which GAO identifies five:

1) finalizing the technical framework and management framework of a V2V communication security system, which will be unique in its size and structure; 2) ensuring that the possible sharing with other wireless users of the radio-frequency spectrum used by V2V communications will not adversely affect V2V technology’s performance; 3) ensuring that drivers respond appropriately to warnings of potential collisions; 4) addressing the uncertainty related to potential liability issues posed by V2V technologies; and 5) addressing any concerns the public may have, including those related to privacy.

Requiring that cars “talk to each other” before critical issues related to security (how are hackers prevented from manipulating V2V warnings and how are the security systems financed and operated?) and privacy (who owns the V2V data collected and who may obtain it, and under what conditions may they obtain it?) strikes me as premature. The automakers and senior lawmakers, such as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are similarly concerned.

The private sector, in partnership with government researchers, has been methodically developing V2V and V2I technologies. We should allow them to continue this process without the imposition of regulatory mandates, however good the intentions. Once the technologies have been sufficiently improved, we should allow the market to determine V2V deployment. Not only will this maintain consumer and producer choice, but it will reduce the very real safety risks associated with prematurely deploying potentially flawed technologies.

Even if you believe a V2V government mandate is an appropriate public policy position, you should recognize that this call from DOT is premature. Lawmakers should call on the DOT to continue its partnership with the private sector in the development of nonbinding V2V standards, rather than moving forward with strict regulatory requirements.