Motor vehicle crashes are the largest single public health crisis in the United States. But the launch this summer of a new year-long test of “smart car” technology conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is designed to save lives and reduce injuries among American motorists.

University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute is piloting a study to study the future of car technology. This first-of-its-kind effort will test a WiFi-like technology that allows vehicles and highway infrastructure to communicate with each other and could help reduce crashes and improve traffic congestion.

Safety Pilot Model Deployment, a $22 million partnership between UMTRI and the U.S. Department of Transportation, is part of a joint research initiative led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see how well wireless communication technology works in the real world. It is the largest connected-vehicle, street-level pilot project ever conducted.

UMTRI will install wireless communication devices on nearly 3,000 vehicles that will let passenger cars, commercial trucks and transit buses “talk” to each other, as well as to traffic lights and other road signals located at intersections, curves and highway sites throughout a test-pilot area in northeast Ann Arbor.

The connected vehicle technology involves both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications that transmit and receive vehicle data such as position, speed and direction. Drivers are alerted to a potential crash situation — such as a nearby vehicle unexpectedly braking, a sudden lane change, or merging traffic — by a visual or audible warning inside their vehicles.

“This is a game-changer for transportation. There are many safety and convenience applications to this, as well as applications related to mobility and sustainability,” said program manager Jim Sayer, an associate research scientist at UMTRI. “This is a tremendous opportunity, and we are very excited to be able to support the USDOT’s demonstration of cutting-edge transportation technologies in our community.”

UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman said the project is emblematic of the work being done at the institute today and in the future.

“The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is playing a key role in the reduction of negative societal impacts associated with transportation around the world,” he said. “UMTRI’s expertise is in delivering high-quality research and deploying solutions to critical transportation issues.

“Safety Pilot Model Deployment is an example of our leadership in the area of safety and sustainability research. Connected vehicle technology has the ability to address as much as 80 percent of crashes of unimpaired drivers and greatly reduce carbon emissions. We also believe connected vehicle technology will influence new economy startups and innovation into the existing industrial base.”

The data generated and archived as part of the project will be used to inform future regulatory and policy decisions by the USDOT. It also will be made available to the transportation industry for use in developing additional approaches to vehicle safety, mobility and environmental sustainability. The testing phase will last one year, but the overall program will operate for 30 months.

“This is a big moment for automotive safety,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This cutting-edge technology offers real promise for improving both the safety and efficiency of our roads. That is a winning combination for drivers across America.”

“The technological advances in today’s vehicles are improving the lives of citizens and making products designed and produced in Michigan more competitive in the marketplace,” said Gov. Rick Snyder. “The connected vehicle technologies being developed in partnership with the automotive industry and our universities provides great opportunity to create high-tech, high-paying jobs here in Michigan.”

More information on the safety pilot available at