PhotoYou can talk about brakes, steering, airbags and so forth, but there's little debate that the biggest safety defect in today's cars is the carbon unit behind the steering wheel.

Google and car manufacturers are hoping that self-driving cars will eventually take over the nation's highways but federal safety regulators are beginning to draw up the rules for their own solution -- one based on what's called V2V, vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will soon start drawing up regulations that would require cars and light trucks to be equipped with wireless chips that would enable them to communicate with nearby vehicles.

NHTSA Administrator David Friedman compared it to the development of the Interstate highway system in its impact on everyday driving and safety, calling it a "moon shot" that could prevent up to 80% of crashes involving unimpaired drivers.

A consortium of automakers including General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen have been working for years to prepare preliminary rules for the system.

Basically, the system would amount to a sort of wi-fi network that enables cars to broadcast their speed and direction to other cars. If two vehicles were on a collision course, alarms would sound to alert the drivers.

Oh, and pedestrians would be safer because their cell phones would broadcast their locations to nearby cars, the feds added confidently. 

Of course, many cars are already equipped with cameras and sensors that perform similar functions but by requiring the installation of the chips in all new cars, the feds hope to achieve a nearly universal penetration rate over time.

Oh, really?

PhotoHow likely is this to happen?

Well, considering that NHTSA has been unable to implement something as simple as a required back-up camera in cars and light trucks more than five years after Congress ordered it to do so, there's plenty of room for skepticism.

More than 100 people -- many of them children -- are killed each year in so-called "backover" accidents. Nearly everyone agrees that a simple camera connected to the screens that now display music, phone calls and navigation would save a lot of lives but auto manufacturers have managed to keep the process -- which involves a camera, some wire and a few screws -- firmly in Park for years.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the automakers' lobbying group, is already starting to let the air out of this proposal as well.

"We need to address security and privacy, along with consumer acceptance, affordability, achieving the critical mass to enable the 'network effect' and establishment of the necessary legal and regulatory framework," the group said in a statement today.

Critics say it's more likely the Googles and GMs of the world will be well into the third or fourth generaiton of their systems while NHTSA continues its attempt to write a set of regulations that will keep cars from running not only into each other but also over any sensitive toes.

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