FCC Votes to Put Car Safety Technology at Risk

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to redeploy airwaves that we’ve had for 21 years for the purposes of developing a vehicle safety system that is on its way to becoming a reality, despite efforts from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), AASHTO, state DOTs, the auto industry, ASCE, ITS America,  and others to preserve this ‘safety spectrum.’ This 5-0 vote allows the majority of the radio spectrum currently used for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) auto safety communications to be used for other purposes, such as WiFi, cable providers, and other unlicensed uses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our everyday lives and patterns, but we also continue to see how technology is changing lives during this time. Whether it’s hopping on a Zoom call with friends or for work, placing a delivery order through our phones, or driving to a socially-distanced activity, new and emerging tools are helping to improve our lives.

Deployed connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs)  can enhance our quality of life through minimized human error, enhanced rideshare opportunities, and improved mobility in underserved communities. However, CAVs full potential cannot be fully realized without preserving the 5.9 GHz band of spectrum within dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2X) communications technology that automakers have never launched. DSRC is a channel specifically designed for CAV use through V2X communication protocols and standards. With 80 deployments of DRSC around the country, this technology can save lives by providing drivers with timely warnings of crashes and other potential, life-harming traffic incidents. Therefore, it is crucial that the dedicated 5.9 GHz band of spectrum remains free from interference to ensure safety between CAVs and the driving environment. If opened and shared to unlicensed applications, safety could be compromised.

Despite these positive benefits, the FCC made it clear today that the 5.9GHz band of spectrum should not be solely for automobile safety. ASCE and our industry partners, Congressional Leaders, US DOT, and state DOTs have warned that reallocating most of the safety spectrum without considering public safety impacts is reckless.

ASCE encourages CAV programs that  will incentivize industry to deploy these systems to: help the nation keep pace with worldwide development; improve human safety; enhance our transportation infrastructure system; and move people and goods efficiently. Opening up the spectrum takes us a step back from ensuring CAVs improve both human safety and transportation infrastructure.

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