By Jeff Gilbert

ANN ARBOR, MI — (WWJ) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he has no doubts that new technology saves lives, but isn’t sure whether it’s going to be affordable enough.

“We know it’s going to save lives,” said LaHood, following a speech to open the University of Michigan’s Symposium on Connected Cars. “We know this technology is going to help people avoid accidents. We know this technology is going to save injuries. It will be up to the carmakers to help us figure out what the cost is going to be.”

One of the nation’s biggest connected car experiments is being conducted on the streets around Ann Arbor. Sensors have been put into vehicles, allowing them to send information to each other on road and weather conditions.

In theory, vehicle-to-vehicle communications could prevent cars from crashing into each other.

But, LaHood says, things often change when you move a technology from the experimental realm into the read world.

“Cost hasn’t really been a factor at this point,” LaHood told reporters. “But, ultimately, it will be. We know people make a judgment on what car to buy based on cost.”

LaHood also saying it’s too early to tell the impact of self-driving cars.

The Transportation Secretary has also been in contact with auto industry leaders on vehicle distraction. It’s too early, he says, to tell if current connectivity systems in cars are a help or a distraction.

Another area where LaHood raised concerns has to do with the definition of drunken driving. States now define that as having a blood alcohol level over .05. The National Transportation Safety Board wants to lower that to .05.

“I think everybody knows that .08 is the standard”,” LaHood said. “I think there will be a big debate over whether to go to a different standard or not.”

The Symposium on connected cars takes a look at new technology. Steven Forrest, University of Michigan vice president for research began the conference announcing that the launch of a new Center to Transform Mobility.

The center, Forrest says, will work with government and private industry to speed up research into connected cars and–long term–self-driving cars.

“It is the nucleus from which the next Silicon Valley will emerge. Right here, in South East Michigan, the birthplace of the modern mass-produced automobile.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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