County working to expand connected car test

Posted at 4:35 AM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 10:01:55-04

A high-tech system that has cars talking to traffic lights – and each other – is being tested in Anthem.

"Last year 34,000 people died on our roadways,” said University of Arizona Professor Larry Head. “Let’s have zero fatalities. Let’s get to the point where we don’t kill unimpaired people on the road.”

Head represents the University in a partnership with the Maricopa County Department of Transportation, Arizona Department of Transportation and others in developing a connected car, “Smart Drive” system. The Anthem test bed is among seven sites nationwide that received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to work on the technology.

The system was first thought to prevent crashes between emergency vehicles passing through intersections but can be used to prioritize traffic in any way. Twelve transmitters are currently installed on top of traffic signals – near Boulder Creek High School – and receive and send back data to connected cars. They can analyze the distance of each vehicle from the intersection and change the signal appropriately. A unique ID is assigned to each car and changes every five minutes, making the data unable to track, Head said, assuring drivers’ privacy.

“We've worked with Valley Metro to look at opportunities,” MCDOT Director Jennifer Toth told ABC15. The department is also talking with the Deer Valley School District about installing SmartDrive transmitters in buses that could provide a real world scenario during the testing phase.

"When school buses start queuing up in an intersection there's that opportunity to clear that queue," Toth said.

Transportation officials are working to install test sites on I-17 and MC 85. In the near future, they’re hoping to recruit 2,000 volunteer drivers in the Anthem area to provide real-world data to the system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a rule that would require new cars being sold in the U.S. to have connected systems beginning in 2021.