Connected Car Safety Under Threat From Clueless Senators

Late last night, a bill was introduced to the Senate that would open up the wireless band reserved for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. This is an epically bad idea. By allowing other devices to play in those airwaves, one of the biggest safety innovations this side of autonomous cars is under threat.

Automakers, safety organizations, and the feds have poured millions into developing a connected car network with the aim of reducing crashes, injuries and deaths. But it operates on the 5.9 GHz spectrum – prime wireless real estate – which is exactly why the senators want to give it up.

The bill was introduced by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida and Democratic Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey, proving once again that even bipartisan initiatives can be shortsighted and idiotic.

Rubio, a presidential non-starter and Kottonmouth King, is playing the "government stifling innovation" card to get the FCC to drop the restrictions. In a statement, Rubio says the bill, "would provide more spectrum to the public and ultimately put the resource to better use".

But it's not just about the economy. Booker, the former mayor of Newark and part-time superhero, believes that the restrictions hurt poor families and widens the "digital divide".

Connected Car Safety Under Threat From Clueless Senators

The DOT and NHTSA have been working on setting standards and researching the implementation of V2V systems for the past few years. Using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) – similar to WiFi – vehicles can "talk" to each other and the surrounding infrastructure. Cars, trucks, and buses would communicate wirelessly and link up with everything from traffic lights to road sensors. If someone's about to run a red-light, you get a notification on your dash or the car even brakes for itself. And NHTSA estimates that V2V technology could eliminate up to 80 percent of traffic crashes.

The wireless spectrum necessary to support that needs a dedicated band to avoid interference from smartphones, tablets, and whatever devices Apple and Google cook up next.

Thankfully, auto industry groups are stepping up and voicing concerns.

The Association of Global Automakers, representing Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, and others says it's far too early to open up this spectrum to outside parties.

"The lifesaving benefits of V2V communications are within reach," says CEO and president John Bozzella. "Given what's at stake, an ill-informed decision on this spectrum is a gamble."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Chrysler, Ford, GM, and Toyota, takes a more conciliatory approach, saying that it's open to sharing the spectrum, but "legislators and regulators must take a 'do no harm' approach and ensure that there is no harmful interference to the dedicated short range communications".

This isn't the first time this particular swath of spectrum has been under fire. In 2013, the FCC announced plans to open up these airwaves to general WiFi use. Nothing's come of it since, but this bipartisan legislation could be the spectrum's death knell, before it even has a chance to make it to our cars.