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Nathan Golia
Nathan Golia
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Can Smartphones Prevent Car Crashes? Automakers Say Yes

Honda recently demonstrated technologies that use ubiquitous smartphones to alert drivers of nearby obstacles.

Walking down a dark, curvy, or trafficky street with a smartphone in your pocket could save your life, if new in-car technology takes off.

Honda yesterday demonstrated a car equipped with dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology that can detect a pedestrian with a smartphone that has the same tech installed. The company explains:

Using the pedestrian's smartphone GPS, its dynamic sensing capability and DSRC wireless technology in the 5.9GHz band, the pedestrian's smartphone and nearby vehicles establish a communications channel to determine if the pedestrian is in danger of being struck by an oncoming car. The V2P system is effective even when the pedestrian is not easily detectable by the driver, such as when stepping off a curb from behind a parked vehicle or other traffic obstruction.

The car makes split-second calculations based on the trajectory of the car and pedestrian, and whether the pedestrian might be distracted by a text message, phone call, music or some other interaction with the phone. Both the vehicle and the phone then light up with alerts of the potential accident.

The Wall Street Journal reports that during a presentation of the new features, Honda executives said that while sensor technology is already in cars, this kind of smartphone-based technology has the potential to be cheaper and easier to implement -- and, it can detect more threats than just those within a close proximity, when it might be too late to react.

And there is some merit to that: Smartphone penetration is high and cellular-connected cars are rolling off assembly lines. But, as SMA's Mark Breading told Insurance & Technology earlier this year, you can't necessarily "engineer away risk" without potential introducing new risks. What if, for example, the alerts distract the driver into slamming on the brakes, leading to a rear-end collision, or swerving into a parked car?

Insurers are wise to follow the advances in car safety technology, but clearly there is progress that still needs to be made before it is clear exactly to what extent these techs make driving less risky overall.

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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