Calling all cars: U-M takes center stage in safe transportation

May 15, 2012
Bernie DeGroat

Connected vehicles can help prevent crashes at busy intersections. Image credit: Department of TransportationConnected vehicles can help prevent crashes at busy intersections. Image credit: Department of TransportationANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute will begin equipping safety technology on vehicles that will allow them to send and receive messages—messages that someday will prevent crashes.

The $22 million Safety Pilot/Model Deployment, a partnership between UMTRI and the U.S. Department of Transportation, is part of a joint research initiative led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see how well the technology works in the real world. It is the largest connected-vehicle, street-level pilot project in the Western Hemisphere.

UMTRI will install wireless communication devices on nearly 3,000 vehicles that will let cars, trucks and buses “talk” to each other, as well as to traffic lights and other road signals located at intersections, curves and highway sites throughout a test-pilot area in northeast Ann Arbor.

The connected vehicle technology involves both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications that transmit and receive vehicle data such as position, speed and location. Drivers are alerted to a potential crash situation—such as a nearby vehicle unexpectedly braking, a sudden lane change, merging traffic, etc.—by a flashing red light or a warning sound inside their vehicles.

“There are all kinds of safety and convenience applications to this, as well as applications related to mobility and sustainability,” said program manager Jim Sayer, an associate research scientist at UMTRI. “This is a tremendous opportunity, and we are very excited to be able to support the USDOT’s demonstration of cutting-edge transportation technologies in our community.”

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of people 4-35 years old. Crashes are associated with 34,000 fatalities a year, 2.3 million emergency room visits annually and a $240-billion-per-year cost in terms of medical and work loss. NHTSA estimates that connected vehicle technology has the potential to address more than 80 percent of unimpaired driver crashes.

For more information or to participate in the study, visit