NHTSA Mulls Mandatory Electronic Safety Standards

In a notice released earlier today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is seriously considering a series of mandatory electronic safety standards and requirements. In the notice, the agency asked the largest automakers to consider seriously whether voluntary standards for vehicle electronics make sense.

Safety agency released a notice as part of its attempt to continually update carmakers regarding its “progress on examining the need for safety standards” for passenger  vehicles. These updates are  based on a 2012 law requiring the NHTSA to regularly report to Congress regarding high priority areas for electronic systems safety.

The safety agency faces increased scrutiny in the wake of its failure to recognize and demand that General Motors repair defective ignition switches on their vehicles. These defective ignition switches have now been linked to at least 54 accidents and 23 deaths. According to NHTSA records, they didn’t know that the computer controls on GM cars deactivated the airbags whenever the ignition switch was in the “off” or “accessory”  position.

Vehicles have a lot of electronics these days, and that electronics often plays a key role regarding vehicle performance and safety. Despite this, there are virtually no performance rules that are specifically geared toward electronics. Currently, NHTSA rules tend to focus on the overall performance of the car, such as electronic steering, acceleration and braking, but failed to take into account the overall electronic systems in vehicles.

According to the notice posted today, the agency is looking into “functional safety approaches for the automotive industry that may effectively address emerging concerns from the increased use of electronics and software in the design of automobiles,” including “hazards associated with electronic control systems” themselves, including those which could have a direct impact on the performance of the vehicle.

Noting that the number of vehicle recalls has nearly tripled in the last two decades, the NHTSA notes that the use of automotive electronics dates back more than 40 years, and that a typical passenger vehicle now features more than 5 miles of wiring, 100 microprocessors, 50 electronic control units, and tens of millions of lines of code. Given the complexities of the system, the increase in the number of recalls is not surprising.

Vehicles are far more complicated these days, and it’s good that the NHTSA is taking a look at improving the rules regarding electronics in vehicles. Whenever there is a vehicle accident, there are many things to look at when determining who’s actually at fault. The more complicated vehicles become, the more complicated the investigation to determine what happened.

If you or a loved one is injured or killed in a crash involving a potentially defective vehicle, please contact the Hill Law Firm as soon as possible, so that we can conduct a thorough investigation and protect your rights under the law.

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