The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been working with automakers on the technology for the past decade, estimates vehicle-to-vehicle communications could prevent up to 80 percent of accidents that don't involve drunken drivers or mechanical failure.
Crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher accounted for nearly a third of the 33,500 traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2012, according to the safety agency.
The technology represents the start of a new era in automotive safety in which the focus is "to prevent crashes in the first place," as compared with previous efforts to ensure accidents are survivable, said David Friedman, the head of the agency.
No orders to automakers are imminent, officials said.
After an agency report, the public and carmakers will have 90 days to comment, then regulators will begin drafting a proposal, and that process could take months to years. But Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said it is his intention to issue the proposal before President Barack Obama leaves office.
"It will change driving as we know it over time," said Scott Belcher, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. "Automobile makers will rethink how they design and construct cars because they will no longer be constructing cars to survive a crash, but building them to avoid a crash."
Government officials declined to give an estimate for how much the technology would increase the price of a new car, but the transportation society estimates it would cost about $100 to $200 per vehicle.
Automakers are enthusiastic about vehicle-to-vehicle technology but feel there are important technical, security and privacy questions that need to be worked out first, said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The technology "may well play a larger role in future road safety, but many pieces of a large puzzle still need to fit together," she said.