Jeremy Greenberg

Use It or Lose It: The Trump Administration Pulls Back on Connected-Car Mandate

On November 1, 2017, the Trump administration placed an Obama-era connected vehicle Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on “long-term status” and removed the rulemaking from the White House Office of Management and Budget’s list of regulations actively under consideration.1 The NPRM, known as “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; V2V Communications,” would have required automakers to install standardized vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) safety technology in new cars and light trucks.2

V2V technology, composed of devices installed in vehicles, improves vehicle safety by allowing cars to share information with one another related to vehicle speed, location, and direction as often as ten times per second.3 Successful and widespread implementation of V2V technology is predicted to enhance vehicle safety by mitigating eighty percent of vehicle collisions that do not involve intoxication.4 V2V technology communicates over the dedicated short-range radio communication (DSRC) standard, with two-way wireless communications operating exclusively in the 5.9 GHz radio spectrum band allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).5 The 5.9 GHz band is mainly fallow because V2V technology has not yet been integrated into cars on a large scale. Though the NPRM has yet to be rescinded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),6 as was originally reported by the Associated Press,7 delaying the NPRM and its V2V mandate could spell the end for V2V technology and its exclusive-use status of the 5850-5859 MHz portion of the 5.9 GHz band.

While the exact reasoning behind the White House’s pull-back of the NPRM is unknown, this move is consistent with the Trump administration’s goal of reducing government regulations thought to be a drain on the economy because mandating installation of V2V technology would raise costs for automakers.8 However, the more likely scenario relates to technology and telecommunications companies’ strong opposition to the NPRM as an unnecessary mandate of an outdated technology soon to be supplanted with connected-car technologies operating over 5G.9 More than the mandate of the V2V technology itself, tech and telecom companies oppose the exclusive allocation of the 5.9 GHz band for intelligent transportation systems (ITS), like the DSRC. Instead, tech and telecom companies support unlicensed use for anyone to operate innovative technologies over Wi-Fi and cellular frequencies using the 5.9 GHz band.10 Telecom companies prefer unlicensed access to the 5.9 GHz band because this particular band is ripe for innovation, such as new high speed and high bandwidth wireless uses of gigabit Wi-Fi, which can only operate in a wider, contiguous channel available in the 5 GHz band.11

The tech and telecom industries’ arguments against the mandate, and the exclusive allocation of the 5.9 GHz band for ITS, prove cogent. One argument against the mandate is that V2V technology is already outdated and is already being supplanted with other more advanced models.12 For example, both Qualcomm and Nexar have developed their own vehicle communication and safety warning technologies, which operate using cellular infrastructure.13 Rescinding the V2V mandate and reallocating at least a portion of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed wireless use would give tech companies the space to further develop innovative technologies relating to vehicle safety, but also improved in-car entertainment functions.

Industry further argues that the V2V mandate is unnecessary because V2V will ultimately serve as a mere stop-gap technology, soon to be supplanted by the impending 5G boom anticipated in 2020, which will provide better safety functions.14 Referring to V2V as a stop-gap technology is generous considering it is estimated to take at least ten years before V2V technology is widely implemented as a useful safety tool.15 Though 5G safety technologies will most likely take years beyond 2020 to be widely integrated,16 V2V’s languid history of taking almost twenty years to even begin integration into cars17 suggests the 5G technologies will come to the fore as soon, if not sooner, than V2V.

Despite the telecom industry’s strong arguments in favor of rescinding the V2V mandate and reallocating the 5.9 GHz band, many automakers and the trucking industry still favor the V2V mandate.18 The auto industry, which has sunk approximately $1 billion into V2V technologies, argues that without the mandate, automakers will not have the requirements to ensure V2V technologies can communicate across different car brands.19 Additionally, the mandate provides a timeline needed to ensure all automakers integrate V2V into vehicles by a certain date. This timeline proves crucial for the functioning of the technology because V2V’s inter-vehicle communication is dependent on the majority of cars integrating V2V.20 Finally, automakers argue that reallocating part of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use will result in Wi-Fi and 5G signals interfering with V2V communications and vehicle safety,21 despite the tech industries’ claims that interference can be avoided.22

Most likely, the Trump administration’s pull-back on the V2V mandate is a precursor to rescission. Rescission of the mandate will soon be accompanied by the reallocation of part of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use, evidenced by the FCC chairman’s consistent statements in support of reallocation.23 The future of safety technology in connected cars will likely integrate a combination of DSRC and 5G technology, taking advantage of the 5.9 GHz band for safety, in-car entertainment purposes, and other connected-car advances promised with the rollout of 5G.

* GLTR Staff Member; Georgetown Law, J.D. expected 2018; Ithaca College, B.S. 2009. © 2017, Jeremy Greenberg.