By Deepa Seetharaman
ANN ARBOR, Michigan (Reuters) - Cars that talk to each other and then alert their drivers to hazards are getting a large scale test in Ann Arbor, Michigan, over the next 12 months, an experiment aimed at helping to decide if the technology should be mandatory.
The nearly 3,000-vehicle project, spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan, will test the technology in real-world driving situations.
The ability of vehicles to keep track of each other's whereabouts and warn a driver if, for example, a car ahead brakes suddenly or swerves without warning may avoid or lessen the severity of four out of five crashes that occur when the driver is not impaired, according to studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"This is a big deal and I think everybody here believes this has a lot of promise," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters on Tuesday at an Ann Arbor, Michigan, event.
"But until we see the data, until the study is complete, we won't know with certainty what promise it really has," LaHood said. "A year from now I think we will."
Eight automakers, including General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Honda Motor Co, have supplied the 2,800 vehicles for the test, which is the largest of its kind.
The cars, trucks and buses will be driven in Ann Arbor, a college town of nearly 28 square miles with a population of nearly 115,000.
Most of the vehicles in the test have an aftermarket device that emits a wireless signal to connect with other cars. A visual message or a beep will alert drivers to a potential crash.
The vehicles will also be able to communicate with roadside devices in 29 areas in Ann Arbor. LaHood said the vehicles could change traffic lights to green if it is safe.
LaHood said safety regulators will not make a decision about whether to make a rule about the technology until 2013. The test will cost $25 million, with 80 percent of the money coming from the department.
(Reporting By Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)