ITS Research Fact Sheets - How Connected Vehicles Work
Connected vehicles have the potential to transform the way Americans travel through the creation
of a safe, interoperable wireless communications network—a system that includes cars, buses,
trucks, trains, traffic signals, cell phones, and other devices. In the past, the U.S. Department of
Transportation (U.S. DOT) has focused on helping people survive crashes. Connected vehicle
technology will change that paradigm by giving people the tools to avoid crashes.
Why Connected Vehicle Technologies Are Needed
Connected vehicle technologies aim to tackle some of the biggest challenges in the surface transportation
industry—in the areas of safety, mobility, and environment.
- Safety: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were
5.4 million crashes and 2.2 million injuries in 2010. The number of fatalities from vehicle crashes
is falling but still accounted for 32,788 deaths in 2010. Connected vehicle technologies will
give all drivers the tools they need to anticipate potential crashes and significantly reduce the
number of lives lost each year.
- Mobility: According to the Texas Transportation Institute, U.S. highway users wasted 4.8
billion hours stuck in traffic in 2010—nearly one full work week (or vacation week) for every
traveler. Connected vehicle mobility applications will enable system users and system operators
to make smart choices that reduce travel delay.
- Environment: According to the Texas Transportation Institute, the total amount of wasted fuel topped 3.9 billion gallons in 2009, the latest year that this data is available. Connected vehicle
environmental applications will give motorists the real time information they need to make
“green” transportation choices.
Connected vehicles feature safety warnings that alert drivers of potentially dangerous conditions
-- impending collisions, icy roads and dangerous curves -- before the driver is aware of them. Research
from NHTSA found that connected vehicle technology has the potential to address vehicle
crashes by unimpaired drivers, but more research needs to be done to understand the true effectiveness
of the technology.
How Connected Vehicles Work
A system of connected vehicles is still in development, and
plenty of research still needs to be done. Safety-related systems
for connected vehicle technology will likely be based
on Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), a
technology similar to WiFi. DSRC is fast, secure, reliable
and operates on a dedicated spectrum. Non-safety applications
may be based on different types of wireless technology.
Cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles will be able to
“talk” to each other with in-vehicle or after market devices
that continuously share important safety and mobility information
with each other. Connected vehicles can also
use wireless communication to “talk” to traffic signals, work
zones, toll booths, school zones, and other types of infrastructure.
The vehicle information communicated is anonymous, so vehicles cannot be tracked and
the system is secure against tampering.
How Connected Vehicles Will Improve Safety
Connected vehicle safety applications will enable drivers to have 360-degree awareness of hazards
and situations they can not even see. Through in-car warnings, vehicle operators will be
alerted to imminent crash situations, such as merging trucks, cars in the driver’s blind side, or when a vehicle ahead of them brakes suddenly. By communicating with roadside
infrastructure, drivers will be alerted when they are entering a school zone,
if workers are on the side of the road, and if an upcoming traffic light is about
Pivotal work is being conducted to guarantee that these driver warnings will
not be a distraction and that people will only be made aware when they are
The connected vehicle system will be similar in many ways to other wireless
networks and will create a dynamic transportation network based on an
open platform to allow for new and creative applications. Open standards
allow anyone to develop new products and applications that will work in this
How Connected Vehicles Will Keep People Moving
Anonymous signals in vehicles will help generate new data about how,
when, and where vehicles travel—information that will then be analyzed
by transportation managers to help make roads safer and less congested.
The same signals could also be shared among mobile devices and roadside
sensors. This exciting new data-rich environment will also be the genesis for
a multitude of new mobility applications that will help to keep traffic flowing
and make it easier for people to plan their travel experience. Imagine, for
instance, apps that can help you find open parking spaces, locate available
taxis, guarantee you make your bus or train connection, or help a blind pedestrian
cross the street. With an open source system for mobility applications
there will be minimal restrictions and limitless opportunities
How Connected Vehicles Will Improve the Environment
Mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) contributions
is everyone’s responsibility. The
transportation sector contributes roughly
28% of the country’s GHG emissions, according
to the Environmental Protection
Agency’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse
Gas Emissions and Sinks. Connected vehicle
technologies will generate real-time
data that drivers and transportation managers
can use to make green transportation
One example is how real-time information
about traffic conditions will help motorists eliminate unnecessary stops and
let their vehicles reach optimal fuel-efficiency. Informed travelers may also
be able to avoid congestion by taking alternate routes or public transit, or
rescheduling their trip—any of which can make their trip more eco-friendly.
Connected vehicles also include buses, trains, and other forms of public
transit. So, by providing real time information, travelers will have a realistic
idea of when transit vehicles will arrive; they will also be able to improve bus
and train connections, and this will help make public transportation more
appealing to the average traveler.
The U.S. Government’s Role
The U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration’s (RITA’s) Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Joint Program Office fosters the development and future deployment of these connected vehicle technologies. But connected vehicle research involves several agencies within U.S. DOT, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration.
U.S. DOT and its public and private partners are working to address the technical, safety, and policy challenges and are helping to create the standards and the wireless architecture that will be the backbone of the system.
Connected vehicle research will leverage the potentially transformative capabilities of wireless technology to make surface transportation safer, smarter, and greener. If successful, connected vehicles will ultimately enhance the mobility and quality of life of all Americans, while helping to reduce the environmental impact of surface transportation.
Connected vehicle applications provide connectivity between and among vehicles, infrastructure, and wireless devices to:
- enable crash warnings
- enable safety, mobility and environmental benefits
- provide continuous real-time connectivity to all system users
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for ages 3 through 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Agencies involved in Connected Vehicle research:
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- Maritime Administration (MARAD)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA)
- Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA)
For more information about this initiative, please contact:
Program Manager, Communications and Outreach
Research and Innovative Technology Administration
ITS Joint Program Office