What is V2X Communication?

To the uninitiated, it seems like some strange code — V2X. But in reality, it is a simple shorthand for a relatively new and growing type of communication that exists not to spread social media angst but instead to save lives.

Ford V2X Technology

V2X refers to vehicle-to-everything communications, which is an all-encompassing term for several subsets. The most important of these are vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P), and vehicle-to-network (V2N.)

As these new interconnected communication networks are built out, your car's onboard electronic systems will routinely transmit information to and receive information from other vehicles and infrastructure elements like traffic signals and parking garages. It will identify the nearby presence of pedestrians who are carrying smartphones, and it could send messages to accomplish something as mundane as ordering a pizza that you will pick up on your way home.

But while drivers will initiate things like pizza-ordering — at least until the technology becomes smart enough to know that you are hungry before you do — the vast majority of the communications will be transparent to the driver and take place on a virtually continuous basis via secure, reliable, high-bandwidth links. The overriding goal is improving traffic safety.

The goal is undoubtedly worthy of substantial effort and the application of leading-edge technology. According to the World Health Organization, traffic accidents cause approximately 1.2 million deaths worldwide each year. Not only is that a staggering number of fatalities, but it also represents 25 percent of all deaths caused by injury annually.

Beyond the fatalities, an additional 50 million people per year are injured in traffic accidents. If we viewed road deaths as a disease, we would be in the midst of an on-going traffic epidemic. Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought its own lethal consequences to the planet, vehicle-related fatalities were well on their way to becoming the third-leading cause of death worldwide. In the United States each year, nearly 40,000 people are killed in vehicle collisions.

How Does V2X Communication Work?

Vehicle-to-everything communications has the potential to prevent or reduce the severity of the vast majority of traffic accidents by enabling vehicles to sense and take preventative action to avoid collisions well before a human driver could. For example, V2X could prevent vehicles from running red lights, even if their drivers are impaired, by sensing an upcoming red light and automatically bringing the car to a halt.

Similarly, V2X could warn other vehicles nearing the intersection of a potential collision, and automated technology could slow a vehicle's progress or alter its direction of travel even before a driver could see or sense trouble. Pedestrians and bicyclists would receive warnings of impending danger, and the motor vehicles near them would automatically brake for or steer around them.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that if V2V and V2P communications could help prevent accidents in intersections and accidents involving left turns, it could result in a 50-percent reduction in crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Should the technology be applied to the full national fleet of vehicles, it could prevent 400,000 to 600,000 crashes, 190,000 to 270,000 injuries, and save 780 to 1,080 lives each year, according to the USDOT.

DSRC vs. C-V2X

It seems clear that implementing a comprehensive V2X system is to everyone's advantage. But hurdles remain, not the least of which is the existence of two competing technologies to accomplish the same end, each with pluses and minuses.

The technology with the longest history is Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). The Federal Communications Commission first established the standards and protocols for DSRC soon after the turn of the century, and it is gaining traction in Japan, Europe, and the United States.

The competing technology is C-V2X, which stands for cellular vehicle-to-everything communication. As the name suggests, it uses cellular technology to accomplish very similar goals. The Chinese government favors it, and thus C -V2X is gaining ground rapidly in the world's largest car market.

The challenge of choosing the optimum technology is a crucial point of discussion and controversy in the V2X world. But whether the auto industry chooses DSRC or C-V2X or a combination of the two when a V2X system is fully implemented, it should make our roads safer for drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, and that's a benefit we should all be able to agree upon.