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EU to free up radio waves and get cars out of jams

As Europe’s roads clog up with motorists heading for the beach or mountains this summer, the EU’s executive will allocate radio bandwidth on Tuesday to make jams and casualties less likely.

The European Commission is set to back reserving a chunk of pan-European radio spectrum for technology that allows cars and traffic control centres to communicate with each other. A car or traffic control centre equipped with special devices could warn motorists of accidents or hazards and allow them to chose alternative routes to avoid tailbacks. “They can, for example, warn other drivers of slippery roads or of a crash which just happened,” the Commission will say in a decision on Tuesday.

In 2006 more than 42,000 people died in road accidents in the 27-nation European Union. Each day there are some 7,500 km (4,690 miles) of traffic jams on EU roads. “We should keep in mind that with 24% of Europeans’ driving time spent in traffic jams, the costs caused by congestion could reach €80 billion by 2010,” EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding will say. “So clearly, saving time through smart vehicle communication systems means saving money,” she will say.

Under the decision, 30 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 Gigahertz band will be allocated within the next six months by governments across Europe to road safety applications, without barring other services already in place such as amateur radio. Brussels hopes this will spur investment in new devices by the automotive industry and public funding in essential roadside infrastructure.

The Commission believes Europe is better prepared than the United States in terms of applications and technology but had lagged by 10 years in spectrum allocation -- a step now due to be rectified by Tuesday’s decision. Some car-to-car communication systems are already emerging, such as Dash Express in the United States, to give drivers traffic data collected automatically from other cars equipped with Dash Express devices.

Com2React, a European-based consortium that includes Spanish telecoms group Telefonica, French carmaker Peugeot and US equipment maker Motorola, is also working on developing a “peer-to-peer” wireless car network. Experts say such technology could also be used to save fuel by helping to improve traffic flows so fewer motorists end up revving their engines at the lights. (Reuters)