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A Thoughtful Policy Framework for Intelligent Cars | Commentary

Recently, the Senate Commerce Committee served as the forum for a discussion we will be hearing much more about — the convergence of the tech and transportation industries in “intelligent vehicles.”

“Increasingly, a car’s capabilities are determined more by its electronics than by its mechanics. This is bringing countless innovations that improve driver comfort, provide useful information and entertainment, and, most importantly, advance safety,” the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland, told Sen. Jay Rockefeller at the hearing on “The Road Ahead: Advanced Vehicle Technology and Its Implications.”

Our highways aren’t filled with driverless cars — yet. But thanks to “intelligent” transportation technologies that have started to bring cutting-edge capabilities to every aspect of our vehicles, we’re a lot closer to that futuristic vision.

By some estimates, 300 million vehicles worldwide will be “connected” to each other, the Internet and the infrastructure around them in less than five years. And it is estimated that vehicles considered “autonomous” — in other words, driverless — will reach the market by the end of the decade.

Some intelligent technologies are already in the cars on our roads. OnStar connects drivers to emergency services and allows owners to unlock their cars remotely. Hughes Telematics works with automakers to offer services such as diagnostics that allow drivers to proactively manage the maintenance of their vehicles, saving time and money. AT&T currently provides connectivity to several electric vehicles that allow drivers to monitor their charging status, vehicle range and find charging stations.

And more technologies are being created. For instance, the Department of Transportation’s Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot program is testing systems that allow cars to “talk” to each other to exchange real-time road safety information. “Smart” stoplights that “read” road traffic to optimize traffic signal operation, parking meters that work with apps to locate and reserve spaces, and vehicle systems that send crash data to medical personnel before patients arrive at a hospital — all of these seemingly futuristic technologies are already in various stages of development and testing.

Looking farther into the future — but maybe not as far as you think — work being done by innovative stakeholders in the connected and autonomous vehicle space may change the meaning of “road trip” entirely. Indeed, expanded networking and cutting-edge wireless capabilities, along with ever-increasing compute power are enabling extraordinary convergence in the automotive and technology sectors.

And as has happened in other sectors of our economy where technological convergence enabled societal developments, we see a range of previously unrelated players coming together. Companies that may not have formerly collaborated are now joining to create new value and novel technologies that improve how consumers and businesses move people and products.

As this new ecosystem takes shape, policymakers are taking notice of the societal benefits that these innovative technologies already are spurring in the transportation sector — making driving safer and more efficient, reducing our carbon footprints and fuel consumption — and anticipating the plethora of societal benefits yet to come.

That’s why we at the Telecommunications Industry Association have gathered with leading high-tech companies and industry groups from across the expanding connected and autonomous vehicle ecosystem to form the Intelligent Car Coalition. The coalition will provide leadership around important societal issues such as distracted driving and educate on the cutting-edge innovations that have the potential to unleash enormous societal benefits in the intelligent transportation arena.

We are drawing on our experiences as stakeholders in the diverse and rapidly-changing Internet ecosystem, a world where industry, consumer advocates and government work together to solve issues that may arise when quickly-evolving innovations present both promise and challenge.

We were very pleased to see Strickland endorse the idea of multi-stakeholder dialogue to address vital and technically complicated issues such as distracted driving in his testimony. And we look forward to working collaboratively with our colleagues in the automotive and transportation industries on policy issues in the intelligent car arena.

As technology becomes more prominent in the vehicle, one issue on which we all must continue to focus is distracted driving. We also must focus on several other public policy issues in front of the intelligent vehicle sector, including data privacy and security, liability, research funding and the ability to create successful public-private partnerships in the expanded ecosystem.

As Ford Motor Co.’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford remarked, “One hundred years ago, the automobile redefined personal mobility. Today, portable communication devices are redefining personal mobility. And I believe that in the future, we will redefine personal mobility together.”

Intelligent transportation technology has the potential to make a similarly large impact on our mobility. The technology is rapidly developing, and we must work together to ensure a policy framework that enables America to take advantage of these exciting societal innovations.

Grant Seiffert is president of the Telecommunications Industry Association.

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