V2V Announcement: Fact vs. Fiction

The Associated Press is reporting this week that the Trump Administration has decided not to pursue a mandate proposed by the Obama Administration that would have required automakers to install vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology in all new cars and trucks.  Is the Associated Press correct that the Administration is “jeopardizing one of the most promising technologies for preventing traffic deaths”?  Below we offer some context and clarity about V2V, the actions of the current Administration, and the potential impact of discontinuing the pending V2V proceeding.

What is V2V, and how does it work?  V2V describes technology that enables motor vehicles to communicate with one another to provide information used to enhance automated vehicle safety applications.  For instance, crash warning systems can use V2V communications to determine the location of other vehicles on the road and alert drivers to imminent collisions.  Although V2V does not require the use of any particular communications technology or infrastructure, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has allocated spectrum in the 5.850-5.925 GHz band (5.9 GHz band) for an open-source wireless communications technology called Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) to be used for V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.  The agency has since proposed sharing the band with unlicensed WiFi users, and is currently engaged in a proceeding on this issue. 

Industry advocates tout fifth generation wireless technology (5G) as another potential solution for V2V communications, either in conjunction with or independent from DSRC.  Once it is deployed, 5G will replace 4G LTE as the standard for wireless communications.  5G deployment will require substantial buildout of facilities by wireless carriers over the next several years.  The FCC is currently engaged in multiple proceedings to facilitate its deployment by freeing up spectrum above 24 GHz for 5G, Internet of Things, and “other advanced spectrum-based services,” expanding opportunities for next-generation wireless broadband services using mid-band (3.7-4.2 GHz, 5.925-6.425 GHz, and 6.425-7.125 GHz) spectrum, and reducing regulatory barriers to wireless network infrastructure investment.  

What action did DOT take with respect to V2V during the Obama Administration?  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency within DOT, initiated a rulemaking proceeding in 2014 to “propose to create a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard . . .  to require [V2V] communication capability for [passenger cars and light truck vehicles] and to create minimum performance requirements for V2V devices and messages.”  The agency first released a research report on V2V communications contemporaneously with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking input on issues including the need for a V2V mandate, the viability of using DSRC and the 5.9 GHz band for V2V communications, and the security and privacy implications of V2V communications, among others.  NHTSA then released a Request for Information about developing a Security Credential Management System (SCMS) to ensure the security of V2V communications.  In December 2016, NHTSA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to mandate DSRC-based V2V communications technology in all new light vehicles (passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less).  The proposed rules would require V2V communications to meet specific standards and criteria related to message format and information, message authentication, misbehavior detection and reporting, cybersecurity, and customer privacy.  On January 19, 2017, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), another agency within DOT, released guidance to transportation agencies related to the deployment of V21 technology to allow vehicles to communicate with roadway infrastructure.

Has the Trump Administration officially nixed the NHTSA proceeding?  No.  The Associated Press reported on November 1 that “[t]he administration has decided not to pursue a final V2V mandate,” but this information came from secondhand sources – specifically, conversations with “two auto industry officials who have spoken with White House and Transportation Department officials and two others whose organizations have spoken to the administration.”  Moreover, the article explained that DOT asserted in a statement that NHTSA is still reviewing comments in the V2V proceeding and has not made a final decision.  Other news sources confirmed the agency’s position that no final decision has been made on whether to continue the proceeding.  According to the Administration’s Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, the V2V proceeding is currently on the Department of Transportation’s “Long-Term Actions” list.  While this indicates that the NHTSA proceeding is not currently a high priority for DOT, it does not mean that it has been terminated.  Notably, the proceeding does not appear on the list of proceedings that the department deems “inactive.”   

If the NHTSA proceeding is terminated, how will that impact the deployment of V2V?  Although a regulatory mandate could result in higher levels of V2V deployment than would otherwise occur in the absence of such a requirement, a mandate is not necessary for V2V technology to be deployed.  Nor does the NHTSA rulemaking affect the FCC’s allocation of spectrum for DSRC, which currently designates DSRC as an incumbent, licensed service in the 5.9 GHz band. 

Indeed, while DOT has never mandated V2V technology, states and automakers are moving ahead with implementing DSRC. At least one original equipment manufacturer – GM – has deployed DSRC domestically, in its 2017 Cadillac CTS sedans.  Others have deployed V2V internationally, particularly Toyota.  In addition, a number of states have deployed infrastructure for V2I communications.

The FCC, meanwhile, continues to consider the future of the 5.9 GHz band.  The FCC is in the process of evaluating whether DSRC and WiFi can co-exist in the band without harmful interference.  The FCC is nearing completion of Phase 1 of testing to evaluate whether sharing is possible.  Phase 1 does not evaluate real world interference but rather whether prototype WiFi devices operate as intended.  Real world interference scenarios will be tested as part of Phases 2 and 3 of the testing the FCC announced in its 5.9 GHz Refresh Public Notice.  Testing Phases 2 and 3, to be conducted jointly with DOT, will not begin until Phase 1 is complete. 

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