U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Ann Arbor today to launch the world’s largest field test of the ability of cars to talk to one another and their surroundings to prevent accidents.

“Cars talking to cars is the future of motor safety,” said LaHood at an event to kick off a year-long safety trial to monitor about 3,000 cars, buses and freight trucks driving in a section of Ann Arbor.

The vehicles will have wireless devices and there will also be wi-fi embedded in intersections and traffic signs.

Last year 32,310 people died in the U.S. due to traffic accidents. LaHood said this is the next frontier of vehicle safety and could prevent or reduce the severity of up to 80% of crashes.

The idea is to use visual and audio warnings of events that could cause a collision such as a car is approaching too fast on the other side of a curve or if someone a few cars ahead is braking suddenly.

Today’s cars have sensors and lasers to detect potential danger but they are limited to what they can see. A wifi message provides a full view.

A third of car fatalities are intersection collisions, said Michael Shulman, technical leader of vehicle communications for Ford,

“The field of view you need is just too great for sensors and radars that are already in production,” Shulman said.

This is a $25 million project being overseen by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

UMTRI has 3,500 volunteers so far and only needs 2,865, said director Peter Sweatman.

LaHood said once data is collected, he will decide on the next moves in an area that the potential for safety to take a quantum leap.

“Who would have ever thought a vehicle could talk to another vehicle,” he said...