How Will the FCC’s Technology Restructuring Plan Impact Vehicle Safety?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to reassign a significant percentage of the airwaves from vehicle-to-everything (V2X) transportation safety applications to wireless Internet. The FCC believes that this major restructuring move will make it easier for people to get online, particularly during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when people are spending significantly more time at home and need reliable Internet access to work or stream entertainment. However, critics, including The Department of Transportation (DOT), say that the restructuring move compromises innovation and transportation safety. DOT officials and safety experts argue that V2X technology has the potential to save thousands of lives a year, and that this would jeopardize those efforts.

For those drivers who are involved in an accident, an experienced car wreck lawyer can provide expert assistance for victims and their family.

What is V2X Technology?

V2X is a communication system that allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles, as well as the other moving parts of the traffic system. It is made up of several components, including vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), which allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles; and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I), which allows vehicles to communicate with streetlights, buildings, pedestrians, and other external systems. The main purpose of V2X technology is to make roadways safer by preventing serious car wrecks. For example, V2X systems can warn motorists about inclement weather or a nearby accident. V2X is also a key component in autonomous vehicles, as it can provide extra information to the vehicle’s existing navigation system. In addition to the significant safety benefits, V2X technology can also be used to make automatic payments at tolls, parking spots, and other traffic-related fees.

The restructuring plan has caused a great deal of friction between the FCC and the DOT. In a letter that the DOT sent to the FCC, the agency warned that the reallocation of a percentage of the 5.9-gigahertz band that had been reserved for V2X communications, and its replacement of the Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) network with cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X), is unreasonable and would compromise innovation in the transportation industry. In addition, safety organizations argue that the FCC has not provided a thorough explanation about whether the V2X applications will work effectively on a smaller percent of the radio spectrum.

Disadvantages of V2X

As with any new technology, there are challenges or drawbacks associated with V2X technology, including the following:

  • Because V2X is connected to the Internet, it is prone to hackers.
  • Some users have privacy concerns after hackers were able to access information and use it for unauthorized purposes.
  • If the system fails in autonomous vehicles, it can cause serious, even fatal accidents.
  • If vehicles, sensors, or networks malfunction, it can load incorrect data, which lead to faulty communications.

The DOT’s Concerns Over the Restructuring Plan

Several officials raised major concerns over the FCC’s decision, including a Treasury official who argued that, in addition to doing little to provide improved Internet access, it would also weaken the United States’ position as a leader in the connected-car technology industry, and put other countries such as China at an economic advantage. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao wrote that the FCC’s efforts would jeopardize the DOT’s efforts to significantly reduce traffic fatalities by underplaying the benefits of V2X technology while failing to adequately address the high cost of switching to new technology options. Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democratic in the Senate Commerce Committee, requested that the vote be delayed because of these and other concerns among government agencies. Depending on the response from the FCC, those who oppose the change could challenge the FCC in court, arguing that the commission did not follow the appropriate procedures.

How Will Restructuring Affect Traffic Safety?

A number of pilot programs have been underway, according to the DOT, including programs in New York City, Wyoming, Tampa, and Salt Lake City. In New York, approximately 2,000 vehicles have the ability to share safety messages and roadside systems. In Salt Lake City, buses that are running late can communicate with traffic lights, including holding a green light long enough so that the bus can get back on schedule. If the new FCC rules are passed, many of these projects would have to either close down or shift to the new C-V2X technology. However, even the airwaves that are set aside for road safety technology may be at risk for interference, which could endanger lives if the technologies stop functioning. For example, one parts manufacturer wrote that certain techniques will not function on the narrower slice of the airwaves, including allowing one vehicle to warn another vehicle about the location of a pedestrian.

The FCC’s Position on Boosting the Wi-Fi Connection

According to the FCC chairman, there is a significant increase in demand for Wi-Fi because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A significant percentage of the workforce is working from home, and the colder weather means that people are staying inside and streaming entertainment more than ever. If adopted, said the chairman, the new rules would be extremely beneficial to both consumers and the automotive safety industry. Although 30 megahertz has been set aside for V2X communications, the FCC has allocated those airwaves to C-V2X, which will undoubtedly upset defenders of DSRC. However, for more than 20 years, said the FCC chairman, the DSRC has done little to improve automotive safety.

The Auto Industry’s Reaction to the FCC’s New Rule

Since 1999, the FCC agreed to allocate 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9-gigahertz band for DSRC, which would be used for the development of communications between vehicles and infrastructures such as roads, traffic signals, and lamp posts. In fact, organizations including the DOT, AAA, the National Safety Council (NSC), and others referred to the reserved airways and the so-called Safety Spectrum.  Vehicles could send and receive messages about hazardous road conditions, traffic congestion, or inclement weather, and use that information to apply emergency braking, or make other decisions that could help prevent serious accidents. Some experts believe that widespread deployment of V2X technology could impact the adoption of self-driving cars, which could use the technology to communicate with other vehicles and traffic infrastructures to make safer driving decisions.

What Does the Future Look Like for V2X?

There are a number of setbacks that could occur as a result of the reallocation. According to the program director for planning and performance management at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), it needs to be determined whether U.S vehicles would be interoperable with vehicles from Canada, Mexico, and other countries use that part of the spectrum for V2X technology. In addition, said the director, it will impact the future of autonomous vehicles because connected cars need significantly more bandwidth than what onboard cameras and sensors can provide. The benefit of connectivity is necessary for a systems approach to be successful. Vehicles may still have driver-assist features and automated driving technology, but with connectivity, safety is compromised.

There is also a major cost issue to consider. Certain technology, such as the DSRC devices that buses and snowplows use in Salt Lake City, would need to be replaced if the V2X becomes strictly cellular-based technology, because it does not work on another part of the spectrum. In addition, according to ITS America, $2.7 billion has already been invested in V2X technology. Replacing it with devices that are compatible with different parts of the spectrum would cost taxpayers $645 million. Comments from the auto industry indicate that they are against allocating bandwidth to Wi-Fi that should be set aside for transportation safety purposes, and that there is insufficient evidence to ensure that life-saving safety applications will function effectively within that spectrum.

How Will This Decision Impact Drivers?

Although it is unclear exactly how this decision will impact consumers, the DOT and other safety officials have projected that V2X technology could save thousands of lives each year. If the reallocation of the radio spectrum compromises safety at all, resulting in an increase in car wrecks, this could become a major safety issue for consumers. For example, if the narrower airwaves prevent one motorist from alerting another motorist about the location of a pedestrian, it can result in a serious or even fatal accident. If a motorist is injured in an accident related to compromised V2X technology, he or she may be eligible for financial compensation. A skilled car wreck lawyer can assist the injured victim with the claims process and ensure that his or her legal rights are protected.

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Victims of All Types of Car Accidents

If you or someone you love was seriously injured in an accident involving a vehicle with V2X technology that malfunctioned, it is in your best interest to contact the Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. We will thoroughly investigate the details of the case and determine who is liable for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.