Later this week (Wednesday Oct 21) the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to discuss a draft piece of legislation (PDF Link) that once again attempts to improve how government regulates automotive safety. Lobbyists and regulators will be on hand to smile, nod in the affirmative and promise to work together.

Legislative Summary

In the first section of the bill we find the traditional litany of onerous reporting requirements. These are specific reports the committee demands of the agency they have jurisdiction over - in this case NHTSA. Reporting requirements are typically staff-driven, meaning the committee staff tend to be the driving force behind these requirements.

The motivation for these reports can be a genuine need for information, but they can also be the result of an agency failing to provide information in a timely or complete manner. Basically, if the committee asks for something and an agency either delays or gives some half-assed answer they’ll see the same question, in a more detailed manner, in the form of a statutory reporting requirement.

When it comes to reporting requirements you general have two types – a single report or a reoccurring report – and each has a unique reporting deadline. As with any legislative requirement these are all subject to negotiation. The agency receiving the reporting requirements will start to draft various reasons they are unable to provide the information to the committee either at all or in the time in which it was requested– most of the time falling back on the standard government explanation of “lack of necessary resources.”

A few key NHTSA reporting requirements:

1. A reoccurring (annual) public report on the plans, goals, rulemakings and working groups of the agency.

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2. A report on the status of implementation of the Inspector General (IG) findings. Committees will often do to this to ensure that an IG’s recommendation are in fact implemented as most IGs have ZERO authority to force an agency to do anything.

3. Report on operations of the Council for Vehicle Electronics, Vehicle – NHTSA was directed under MAP-21 (last highway bill) to establish this council. The committee simply wants to know – is it real, what has it done and what will it do.

4. Study seat belts on school buses (again) but this time focus on technology too.

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5. Study rear seat crash standards to support a new federal safety standard for rear passenger protection.

Software, and Emerging Technologies.

Improvement of data collection on child occupants in vehicle crashes – committee wants a way to capture the type of child restraint and position (rear or front racing) when a child is involved in a crash. This will take a bit of work as state LEOs will likely need to update their reporting forms/systems.

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Fixing Safety Recalls, Again, But Better This Time

Recalls are still happening and Congress is here to make things better.

An improved website.

We live in a digital world. Congress recognizes that and has given NHTSA two years to advance their recall website. They’ve even established detailed, groundbreaking goals like “accommodating high-traffic volume” and “establishing best practices for scheduling routine website maintenance.” Yes readers, by 2018 NHTSA will have a recall portal on par with most websites from 2001.

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But it doesn’t end there – the Committee has also asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study to determine how consumers and dealers use the recall website.

Electronic mail boxes

After years of improving the color, size and threatening text on recall envelopes it appears Congress is ready to embrace electronic mail, commonly referred to as email, as a form of notification. Not to worry USPS, the law will still require first class mail notification as well. This new change would require manufactures, upon consent from owners, be sent recall notifications via email if the automaker can get the owner to hand over their email address that is.

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Completion Rate Report

NHTSA will be required to produce a recall completion rate report for Congress (not the public) by automaker and component. GAO has done this in the past during a previous review of recall rates. They concluded passive safety items like airbags often have a lower completion rate.

Quick thought: Is the fixation for informing owners of recall notifications based on data that proves the low remedy rate is based on a lack of knowledge? Or is this yearning to improve the notification process simply the byproduct of Congress’ inability to force owners to pursue a remedy?

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Another IG Audit?

WATCHDOG! Congress will make the IG look at NHTSA’s recall process yet again.

Recall notification at State vehicle registration

Look! Another attempt to inform the consumer there is an open recall for their vehicle. This time the DMV will be required to tell you about any open recalls on a vehicle at the time of registration. You can smile, say “OK” and leave with your registration. Yes, there is no prohibition from registration for a vehicle with an open recall.

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Rolling back time on remedies for defects and noncompliance

At present automakers are only responsible for defects going back 10 calendar years. This section would expand that to 15 years. Curious how a change like this could impact testing in terms of life expectancy of components.

Hacking, Privacy and Data

First order of business – a long, complex privacy policy will become mandatory. Anyone selling a vehicle in the US must have a privacy policy that says how or if and when an automaker might or could use any data generated by the owner.

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Event Data Recorder (EDR)

Congress wants NHTSA to figure how long an EDR can record information, something they’ve been discussing at length with automakers, and who can have access to that data.

Hacking

Right off the bat Congress says it’s illegal. Hacking into a vehicle is illegal and you could be fined up to $100,000 for doing it. The peculiar part is that hacking is defined as entering a vehicle’s ECU or critical system “without authorization” without actually defining authorization. Who needs to authorize access - the automaker or the owner? This starts to bleed into the whole copyright debate on who owns a vehicle’s software.

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Automotive Cybersecurity Advisory Council

Oh, a council mandated by federal decree. Nothing solves problems quite like an overly prescriptive group of important people constantly meeting because of a mandate by their regulatory body.

Very, Very Smart Vehicles

Vehicles are getting smarter and smarter therefore we need not just a council, but a committee. It’s like the MSport of councils.

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The bill will create the Advanced Automotive Technology Advisory Committee (AATAC). Their job will be to create safety metrics for all these super-advanced safety technologies to use in NCAP star ratings.

Once a piece of this tech reaches 35% penetration in new vehicles the it and it’s rating will be listed on the vehicle label. When penetration reaches 85% it will be removed from the label. If the vehicle has a technology that hasn’t been tested again the metrics it will be listed as a “special feature” until it hits the 35% penetration rate. If a vehicle has no advanced technology the label will reflect that the vehicle has no advanced technology. Like a dumb vehicle label.

Yeah, this won’t confuse buyers at all.

CAFE Credits for Tech

For any vehicle built after 2018 the legislation proposes that automakers get 3 or more grams per mile for any vehicle with at least three advanced automotive technologies installed; 6 grams or more per mile for any vehicle with connected vehicle technology installed.

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Advanced Automotive Technologies:

· Forward collision warning

· Adaptive brake assist

· Autonomous emergency braking

· Adaptive cruise control

· Lane departure warnings

· Lane keeping assistance

· Driver attention monitor

· Left turn assist

· Intersection movement assist

Connected Vehicle Technology:

· DSRC transmitter/receiver

That wraps up the draft bill in summary. I hope this was good for as it was for me. I will follow up Wednesday with a review of the hearing. Until then happy motoring. Follow me on Twitter for more: @DCCarGeek