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A world where humans, motor vehicles and the infrastructure will wirelessly communicate and co-operate for the greater good came a step closer this week when the European Commission reserved part of the radio spectrum for smart vehicle communications systems (so called co-operative systems). I have talked about telematics in my lectures and writing before and this a part of that whole concept.

The networked road system envisaged by the European Intelligent Car Initiative promotes the use ICT to achieve smarter, safer and cleaner road transport and comes not a moment too soon – already 24% of European driving time is spent in traffic jams, and it’ll get much worse before it gets better. Research suggests the costs caused by traffic congestion could reach EUR80 billion by 2010.

The wireless system will allow cars to 'talk' to other cars and to the road infrastructure providers. The system will, for example, warn other drivers of slippery roads or of a crash which just happened. Smart vehicle communication systems have the potential to make safer and ease the lives of Europe's drivers: in 2006, more than 42,000 people died in road accidents in the European Union and more than 1.6 million were injured while every day there are some 7,500 km of traffic jams on the EU's roads. The Commission decision is intended to foster investment in smart vehicle communication systems by the automotive industry, at the same time spurring public funding in essential roadside infrastructure.

The Commission decision provides a single EU-wide frequency band that can be used for immediate and reliable communication between cars, and between cars and roadside infrastructure. It is 30 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 Gigahertz (GHz) band which will be allocated within the next six months by national authorities across Europe to road safety, without barring other services already in place (such as amateur radio services). EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding described the decision as “a decisive step towards meeting the European goal of reducing road accidents.”

“Getting critical messages through quickly and accurately is a must for road safety,” she said. “We should also keep in mind that with 24% of Europeans' driving time spent in traffic jams the costs caused by congestion could reach €80 billion by 2010. So clearly saving time through smart vehicles communications systems means saving money."

A typical example is the case of a vehicle detecting a slippery patch on a road: if it is equipped with a cooperative car-to-car communication device, it can deliver this information to all cars located nearby. If a traffic management centre needs to inform drivers about a sudden road closure, the alternative route to take or a change in speed limits, it will also be able to send this information to a transmitter detector along the respective road, which then passes it on to vehicles driving in the vicinity.