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Ford Intends to Save Lives with its Smart Intersection

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

The idea of cars wirelessly communicating with other cars and with traffic signals to help avoid accidents and smooth out traffic flow might seem like something out of the Jetsons. But if real world tests being conducted by Ford and other manufacturers are any indication, that reality could be closer than you think.

In addition to the fuel and time wasted while sitting at stoplights, entering an intersection is one of the most dangerous situations drivers face. According to the Traffic Safety Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by parents who lost their daughter when another driver ran a red light, crashes at intersections account for more than 45 percent of all reported accidents and more than 21 percent of all accident-related fatalities in the United States.

Some cities and counties in the US are trying to make intersections safer and less congested by installing things like roundabouts and traffic cameras. Ford, however, is working with other auto manufacturers and government partners to explore how traffic flow and safety can be increased without tearing up any pavement or having a robot take pictures of cars.

At a purpose-built experimental "smart intersection" near Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters, normal cars are outfitted with technology that lets them talk with one another to provide information on where they are, as well as talk with stop lights and other traffic signals so that disruptions in traffic flow are kept to a minimum.

The advances the system hopes to achieve are far from mundane: imagine your car being able brake and save your life if it senses another car is about to run a red light, or telling the light to turn green as you approach so that you don't have to stop when there are no other vehicles in sight.

While the system holds promise for the future, there are many issues that need to be addressed before it could be implemented. For one, every car on the road would have to be outfitted with the proper equipment and have a standard communication "language" for it to work. Ford officials say they are engaging as many stakeholders around the world as they can to address this issue.

"Our goal is to work with our government partners and other automakers to 'harmonize' the technology around the world as much as possible," wrote Wes Sherwood, Ford's Safety Communications Manager, in an email to AutoTrader. "With our partners we want to develop this technology as quickly and affordably as possible."

Perhaps the biggest concern an average driver might have is how much of their personal information the system would share and who might have access to it. Ford says that these concerns are being addressed.

"In general, intelligent vehicle systems are being designed to transmit less information than today's cell phones," wrote Sherwood. "The data shared does not specify the driver's private or vehicle information – the key is that the 'grid' generically knows it's a vehicle and how that vehicle is moving in relation to other vehicles."

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Ford Intends to Save Lives with its Smart Intersection - Autotrader