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EU grabs 30MHz of spectrum for talking cars

My other car's a right nag

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The EU has agreed to reserve 30MHz of spectrum (around 5.9GHz) for cars that want to talk to each other, in the belief that doing so will save lives rather than add more driver-distracting gadgets.

The idea is that cars driving along a road will be able to spot hazards, such as a slippery surface, and will decide - presumably for the common good - to inform those following to take care. Quite how the cars following will alert their fleshy drivers to the problem remains to be seen, but that's not the EU's problem.

EU road accident deaths topped 42,000 people in 2006, and Viviane Reding paints the decision as "a decisive step towards meeting the European goal of reducing road accidents". The best way to reduce road deaths is, of course, making people wear seatbelts. In the UK we kill around ten people a day on our roads, making us one of the safest countries in the world, but that's almost entirely due to our insistence on wearing seatbelts rather than any high-tech jiggery-pokery.

It's not just about saving lives, though - the EU also quotes the marvellous figure that by 2010 we'll be losing €80 billion a year due to traffic jams. Spending serious money to prevent that makes sense. Of course, that figure assumes no one sitting in traffic is being productive - talking on a mobile phone, or thinking perhaps - but even half that would be well worth saving. As Ms Reding puts it: "Clearly saving time through smart vehicles communications systems means saving money."

It's not quite clear how short-range radio communications will prevent traffic jams any better than networked-sat-nav systems do today. Information on traffic flow is already available and automatically sent out to Traffic Master systems, at least in the UK, so being able to communicate to cars nearby could be seen as redundant.

There's plenty of bandwidth in the cellular frequencies for these applications, and little reason for cars to start chatting to their neighbours for the moment. Only if one envisions a time when cars can drive themselves, at least in part, does short-range communications between vehicles makes more sense, but it is the job of the EU to plan well in advance.

Local regulators will be reserving the spectrum within the next six months, but don't expect any traffic jams to disappear or lives to be saved - at least not until we can get rid of the driver behind the wheel. ®

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