Date: Jan. 18, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Unintended Acceleration Controversy Reveals Need for NHTSA to Anticipate Safety Challenges From Automotive Electronics, Says New Report
The Research Council's study was requested in the aftermath of the 2009-2010 reports of sudden acceleration problems in
The Research Council report finds NHTSA's decision to close its investigation of
"It's unrealistic to expect NHTSA to hire and maintain personnel who have all of the specialized technical and design knowledge relevant to this constantly evolving field," said Louis Lanzerotti, Distinguished Research Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "A standing advisory committee is one way NHTSA can interact with industry and with technical experts in electronics to keep abreast of these technologies and oversee their safety. Neither the automotive industry, NHTSA, nor motorists can afford a recurrence of something like the unintended acceleration controversy."
The report recommends that NHTSA establish a standing technical advisory panel of individuals with backgrounds central to the design, development, and safety assurance of automotive electronics systems. Composed of experts on software and systems engineering, human factors, and electronics hardware, the panel should be consulted on relevant technical matters that arise throughout the agency's vehicle safety programs, including regulatory reviews, defect investigation processes, and research needs assessments.
NHTSA rules require that vehicles have certain safety features and capabilities, but do not prescribe how manufacturers meet these standards. The manufacturer has the primary responsibility for designing electronics systems and for testing them to ensure that they work as intended. In addition to setting and enforcing safety rules, one of NHTSA's main roles is to spot and investigate safety defects that escape the automotive manufacturers' own safety assurance processes and to order safety recalls when necessary.
The report recommends a strategic planning process to guide the agency's fulfillment of these critical responsibilities as cars become more technologically complex. A strategic plan that engages top NHTSA leadership and defines the resources and capabilities required by the agency will help balance the mandate to be both proactive about automotive electronics and responsive to other safety priorities. In the future, the possibility of electronics leading to increasingly autonomous vehicles presents a new set of safety challenges and will demand even more agency planning and foresight.
NHTSA should also conduct a comprehensive review of its Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) to determine the specific capabilities needed to monitor and investigate flaws in electronics-intensive vehicles. The report recommends that NHTSA's research program assist ODI in finding ways to improve consumer complaint reports and other data that the office relies on to identify safety defects in vehicles and to assess their possible causes.
The report evaluates a number of NHTSA's rule-making and research initiatives, including the installation of event data recorders (EDRs) on all automobiles to inform safety investigations. EDRs should be commonplace in all new vehicles, the report concurs. It also endorses NHTSA's plan to conduct research in areas such as layouts for gas and brake pedals and intuitive designs for keyless ignition systems. It recommends that this study be a precursor to a broader human factors research initiative in collaboration with the automotive industry to ensure that electronics systems and drivers interact safely.
The study was supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering,
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Pre-publication copies of The Safety Promise and Challenge of Automotive Electronics: Insights from Unintended Acceleration are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Transportation Research Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Committee on Electronic Vehicle Controls and Unintended Acceleration
Louis J. Lanzerotti* (chair)
Distinguished Research Professor
Department of Physics
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Dennis C. Bley
Buttonwood Consulting Inc.
Raymond M. Brach
Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Systems and Software Division
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Department of Economics
Daniel N. Jackson
Professor of Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Linos J. Jacovides*
Thomas Walter Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
John D. Lee
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Adrian K. Lund
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
MAJR Products Corp.
William A. Radasky
President, Founder, and Managing Engineer
Nadine B. Sarter
Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering
Director of Engineering Processes
Lockheed Martin Corp. (retired)
Dennis F. Wilkie*
Senior Vice President
Management Consulting Division
Compass Group Ltd.
Transportation Research Board
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
Board on Energy and Environmental Systems