Bill to Overhaul Motor Vehicle Safety Law Pending

Posted By The Carlson Law Firm || 13-Nov-2012

Ralph Nader, a longtime advocate for auto safety, has called on Congress to pass a bill that would enable the overhaul of the nation’s auto safety regulations in the wake of the Toyota sudden acceleration issue.

The bill, if passed, would become the “Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010.” Nader said it would “strengthen sanctions and advance certain safety improvements and capabilities” of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The bill would require the NHTSA to create the Center for Vehicle Electronics, Vehicle Software, and Emerging Technologies. The center would build, integrate and aggregate the agency’s expertise in vehicle electronics and other new and emerging technologies.

This would allow the agency to better investigate and regulate events, like the recent sudden acceleration problem of some Toyotas. Critics have questioned the current ability of the NHTSA to properly investigate the issue. They are unsure whether the agency has the proper technical competence, and this would address that concern.

Other elements of the bill would require the NHTSA to develop regulations governing such matters as, vehicle stopping distance and brake override standards, pedal placement standard, electronic systems performance standard, keyless ignition systems standard, transmission configuration standards and vehicle event data recorders.

Electronic Controls and Other New Technologies and Standards

As cars become ever more sophisticated and rely on more electronic controls, it becomes critical the pieces operate as a seamless whole. This becomes more of a challenge, as software becomes as much a part of vehicle operations as tires and an engine.

Another requirement contained in the bill would have vehicle systems made more intuitive, with the addition keyless ignitions and the use of transmission standards. This would allow anyone driving the vehicle to turn it off or place it in neutral, even if one were unfamiliar with the car, as in the case of rental vehicles. It would also create a brake override standard, to ensure the brakes have the capacity to stop the vehicle in all conditions, and that in certain conditions, the brake would override the throttle control. Both of these advancements would hopefully prevent car accidents and personal injuries.

The bill would also implement standards for the pedal placement, to avoid confusion, and work to eliminate problems like the floor mats or other obstructions becoming jammed under the pedal.

The electronic systems performance standard would be developed to ensure all of the varied electronic systems “play nice together” and don’t create problems via software incompatibilities.

Vehicle Event Data Recorders

Because of the increasing reliance on electronics to operate a vehicle, it becomes necessary to use a vehicle event data recorder, similar to the “black boxes” on aircraft. This technology would enable investigators to reconstruct events leading up to a motor vehicle accident.

Event data recorders are necessary because of how sophisticated motor vehicles are becoming. Older cars would have had a direct mechanical linkage for the accelerator or the connections from the brake pedal to the brake master cylinder. Now there may be only lines of software code moving instructions by wire to each brake.

One can’t examine the “sticky” lines of code the way one could take apart the mechanical parts to determine why something may have failed and a car crash occurred. An event recorder will at least provide investigators with specific readings of critical systems immediately prior to a car accident.

Other Improvements at the NHSTA

The NHSTA would also be required by Congress to improve its information gathering and dissemination processes. It would have to establish a hotline for employees of manufacturers, dealers and mechanics to disclose directly and confidentially potential passenger vehicle safety defects. Whistleblower protections for those employees would also be mandated.

If this bill is passed by Congress, it will still be a couple of years before these safety measures become standard in the cars on the showroom floor. If you have been injured in an accident involving sudden acceleration, or by any other type of motor vehicle crash, contact an attorney experienced in handling motor vehicle crashes and the personal injuries that result. An attorney can examine your case, provide information about your available options, and advise you on how to best proceed.

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