ANN ARBOR, Mich. -

Imagine a future where your car will actually talk with others to avoid accidents, warn you when road conditions deteriorate and when other drivers are making potentially fatal mistakes.

The future is now in northeastern Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Transportation are partnering on the largest study ever on vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication.

It's one of the rare instances where texting while driving is actually beneficial. At 10 times a second, test vehicles transmit their location, speed, size and heading. They are essentially shouting to other vehicles, "I'm here, don't hit me!" Nearly 3,000 cars, trucks, semi's, motorcycles and even bicycles are participating in the study. The hardware is simple. The software is sophisticated.

For instance, if a V2V equipped vehicles suddenly stops ahead of your car 300 yards ahead, your car will know about it. If you fail to slow down, it will give you a warning within 50-to-100 feet.

"The Department of Transportation concluded this communication is relevant in 80% of single-vehicle, unimpaired, crashes," said Peter Sweatman, UMTRI Director. "It will help in the vast majority of accidents."

The Feds and UMTRI have logged 4 Million trips and 25 Million miles since the study began 18 months ago. They've learned the technology works well and were surprised how many contacts and warnings were recorded over that period.

"We learned people love this technology. They appreciate the warnings and are now asking us, what is the next step," said Sweatman.

For UMTRI, it means expanding the program to add 6,000 more cars and trucks into the study -- to get a better handle on the impact and benefits V2V will have at a higher density of participation.

The car is also connected to 29 specially equipped intersections. The smart roads will tell drivers when they are speeding, when ice is present, and will let them know if cross-traffic fails to stop.

The major obstacles:

-- Getting local governments to invest in infrastructure upgrades for smart roads.
-- Providing stronger encryption technology. The system must be secure from hackers.
-- Wider deployment in vehicles

For every V2V equipped car, the greater the density of the technology, the greater the potential benefit.

The future is closer than you might think. The feds were encouraged by the Ann Arbor findings and are pushing for broader study, and broader deployment. Sweatman sees public availability in 3 to 5 years.

Initially the feds may mandate this technology in new vehicles. That could come by the end of the decade. Next, consumers should see off the shelf technology available in aftermarket products for older cars.

Researchers estimate the industry can deliver the hardware for as little as $100.