By on May 4, 2010

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced a draft version of his Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010. As TTAC has reported, the bill contains a number of provisions, including mandated pedal distances, mandatory brake override, keyless ignition standards, vehicle event data recorder standards, transmission configuration standards, increased penalties for recall delays, and much, much more. Hit the jump for a full description of the measures under consideration.

TITLE I – STRENGTHENING VEHICLE ELECTRONICS AND SAFETY STANDARDS

“Safety will come first. This bill includes strong new safety standards to protect Americans in their cars and on the road,” Chairman Rockefeller said.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 includes the following provisions to strengthen vehicle safety standards:

• Establishes a Stopping Distance and Brake Override Standard — This provision mandates a performance standard by which every automobile must be able to stop within a certain distance when the engine is operating with an open throttle. Automakers may meet this standard through the installation of a brake override feature in which the brake pedal’s input to the engine’s computer always overrides the accelerator pedal’s input.

• Establishes a Pedal Placement Standard — To address the potential for out-of-place floor mats and other objects to obstruct vehicle foot pedals, this provision would require NHTSA to issue a rule requiring minimum distances between floor pedals, minimum distances between foot pedals and the vehicle floor, and minimum distances to account for any other potential obstructions to pedal movement.

• Establishes an Electronic Systems Performance Standard — There are currently no standards governing the safety and performance of vehicle electronics — including electronic throttle control — as a system within the vehicle. This provision would require NHTSA to issue a rule requiring passenger vehicles to meet minimum performance standards for electronic systems.

• Establishes a Keyless Ignition Systems Standard — Consumer complaints to NHTSA about sudden acceleration often noted that drivers of vehicles with push-button ignitions could not determine how to turn off the engine during an emergency. This provision would require NHTSA to issue a rule standardizing the means by which a driver who may be unfamiliar with the vehicle uses the ignition system to safely bring the vehicle under control during an emergency situation.

• Establishes a Vehicle Event Data Recorders (EDRs) Standard — Like “black boxes” in airplanes, EDRs would record crash data information to help determine the root cause of a crash. This provision would require that manufacturers equip all new vehicles with EDRs that record at least the 60 seconds prior to — and 15 seconds after — a vehicle crash and airbag deployment. To protect privacy, the data on an EDR would be deemed the sole property of the vehicle owner or lessee.

• Establishes a Transmission Configuration Standard — Consumers involved in sudden acceleration incidents noted that sometimes the label for “neutral” on gearshifts did not correspond with the actual neutral position of the gearshift. This provision would require NHTSA to issue a rule that requires an intuitive configuration and accurate labeling for gear shifting controls, including for drivers not familiar with the vehicle.

TITLE II – ENHANCED SAFETY AUTHORITIES

“NHTSA needs strong teeth to stop automakers from skirting safety-related reporting requirements – and to crack down on them when they do,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “Right now, NHTSA can fine car makers who violate the rules only up to $16.4 million – and for multi-billion dollar car companies, that’s like paying a parking ticket. This bill will raise civil penalties and remove the cap on auto safety fines, incentivizing automakers to report safety defects as required by law, or risk paying the price.”

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 includes the following provisions to strengthen NHTSA’s ability to crack down on car makers and to take unsafe vehicles off the road:

• Raises Civil Penalties — This provision would increase the per-vehicle civil penalty from $5,000 to $25,000 and remove the overall cap on civil penalties for automakers that intentionally fail to report vehicle safety defects to NHTSA, or that intentionally provide misleading information about NHTSA.

• Creates Imminent Hazard Authority — This provision would give the NHTSA Administrator expedited authority to stop further sales of a vehicle if a defect creates an imminent hazard that could lead to deaths and serious injuries. An affected auto manufacturer or parts supplier would have the right to an expedited review in a federal court of appeals.

TITLE III – TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

“Too often, consumers don’t know where to report vehicle safety defects or learn about new safety upgrades,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “Sometimes, what little information they have is confusing or poorly organized – like NHTSA’s early warning database. This bill empowers consumers to know where to go to report defects and to learn more about their cars, and it mandates unprecedented information-sharing, accountability and transparency from the automakers and NHTSA.”

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 includes the following provisions to improve transparency and accountability for vehicle safety:

• Improved Early Warning Reporting System — This provision would require NHTSA to modernize its early warning reporting system, making it easier for consumers to use and understand NHTSA’s online database of vehicle defect reports.

• Promotion of Vehicle Defect Reporting — This provision would require the placement of a sticker or other notification in a location accessible to the consumer about how to contact NHTSA to report a potential vehicle safety defect.

• Public Availability of Early Warning Data — This provision reverses the presumption that early warning data is kept confidential unless the Secretary of Transportation decides otherwise – to a presumption that early warning data is made public unless the Secretary decides otherwise.

• Consumer Notice of Software Updates and Other Communications with Dealers — This provision requires manufacturers to give public notice of vehicle software updates. By requiring consumer notice of software updates or modifications, consumers will be better informed about potential safety issues affecting their vehicles. For consumers who do not use dealership mechanics, they still have a right to know when they need to have their vehicle’s software updated for safety reasons.

• Whistleblower Protections and NHTSA Hotline for Auto Workers — This provision would grant auto industry personnel the same whistleblower protections currently provided to airline employees. This provision also would require NHTSA to establish a “hotline” just for mechanics and other auto industry workers to confidentially report potential vehicle defects.

• Corporate Responsibility for NHTSA Reports — This provision would require the senior auto executive in the U.S. to attest in writing that all information submitted in response to a NHTSA investigation is accurate and complete. Submitting false information could result in civil or criminal penalties.

• Stop the Revolving Door — This provision would prohibit NHTSA employees working on vehicle safety from working for the auto industry for three years after leaving the agency, if the private-sector employment involves communication with NHTSA or giving advice about NHTSA.

TITLE IV – FUNDING

“We are committed to making sure NHTSA finally has the full authority and resources it needs to save lives and prevent injuries,” Chairman Rockefeller said.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 authorizes higher funding levels for vehicle safety investigations and enforcement at $200 million in FY2011, $240 million in FY2012, and $280 million in FY2013. NHTSA vehicle safety operations received $140 million in FY2010. Higher funding levels would be used to hire more safety engineers and experts at NHTSA, update vehicle crash testing facilities, and to improve NHTSA’s vehicle safety databases.

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30 Comments on “Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 Unveiled...”


  • avatar
    Brian E

    “This provision mandates a performance standard by which every automobile must be able to stop within a certain distance when the engine is operating with an open throttle. Automakers may meet this standard through the installation of a brake override feature in which the brake pedal’s input to the engine’s computer always overrides the accelerator pedal’s input.”

    This actually sounds shockingly reasonable. Manufacturers can meet this standard while allowing some degree of brake / throttle overlap by requiring the brake to be depressed a certain amount for a certain amount of time corresponding with a wide-open or nearly open throttle before the throttle kill kicks in.

    “To address the potential for out-of-place floor mats and other objects to obstruct vehicle foot pedals, this provision would require NHTSA to issue a rule requiring minimum distances between floor pedals, minimum distances between foot pedals and the vehicle floor, and minimum distances to account for any other potential obstructions to pedal movement.”

    This, on the other hand, worries me. What does a minimum distance between the throttle and the floor mean in a bottom-hinged throttle?

    “Like “black boxes” in airplanes, EDRs would record crash data information to help determine the root cause of a crash. This provision would require that manufacturers equip all new vehicles with EDRs that record at least the 60 seconds prior to — and 15 seconds after — a vehicle crash and airbag deployment. To protect privacy, the data on an EDR would be deemed the sole property of the vehicle owner or lessee.”

    It’s a start. Let’s add a requirement for a reasonably accurate, continuously running real-time clock, and further require that light timings at all intersections within federal purview also be recorded (not just pre-set, but with actual times recorded) using a similar device.

    “This provision would increase the per-vehicle civil penalty from $5,000 to $25,000 and remove the overall cap on civil penalties for automakers that intentionally fail to report vehicle safety defects to NHTSA, or that intentionally provide misleading information about NHTSA.”

    Can we also apply that penalty to employees of the NHTSA that have knowledge of a defect, but fail to act on it in a timely fashion, or would the public employees unions pitch a fit? Nothing will change until there’s an actual incentive for competence.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    I wonder if the new offices this bill will create will be located in West Virginia. I wonder what all the people who like to heel-toe downshift will do about this bill’s pedal spacing requirements. Maybe I should capitalize on this idea and start a business that makes pedal extenders, the packaging will require a big liability statement. I like this bill; but if it wants to improve safety, it should establish an agency of better driving and traffic engineering. It would find the safest and best ways to drive, and release the info to the public. It would also set standards for traffic light times and such as longer yellows and 2 more seconds between one light becoming red and the other green. To address the issues on heavy traffic street being crossed by low-traffic streets and federal traffic light standards giving the low-traffic street to much time on green-lights, the new systems can have divisions of intersections, divided upon which direct the traffic usually drives toward, the volume of traffic on the streets making up the intersection, and what type of road the traffic leads into such as residential areas, shopping areas or industrial areas or onto the highway. If you say this is big government, what isn’t these days? besides the regulation on trade and corporations. Didn’t the airlines operate better before deregulation in the 1980′s?

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      I’m not fond of “big government”, but it’s precisely because it’s a distraction from doing things that are clearly within the government’s purview, including highway safety. So I’ve got no problem with your suggestions, but I suspect that all the municipalities that are living off enforcement revenue will have a problem of your suggestion of longer yellows.

      It’s funny how everyone agrees that airlines were better before deregulation, but nobody wants to pay what it would cost to maintain that system today. I’d rather fly Southwest and take my lunch on the flight in a bag from the airport.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know who everyone is, but airlines were shit before regulation, and not affordable. Plus, they are still heavily unionized even now.

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      although this leads off into a tangent I found two very good articles on deregulation of the air lines, the first one is by a department of transportation official who testified to congress for deregulation, he writes about how the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) was slow to act and inefficient in regulating the airlines. The second article talks about all the dramatic rise in airline bankruptcies, and how the CAB should have been reformed instead of abolished.
      http://library.findlaw.com/1988/Sep/1/129304.html
      http://www.alternet.org/story/25495/
      @ Pete Zaitcev, Unions did not hold back the airlines. Don’t bring up the air traffic controller strike of 1981 that was a conflict with the FAA not the airlines, it is the FAA that employs air traffic controllers.

  • avatar
    Wagen

    “a rule requiring minimum distances between floor pedals, minimum distances between foot pedals and the vehicle floor, and minimum distances to account for any other potential obstructions to pedal movement”

    Does this mean the end of floor-mounted gas pedals? The end of heel-and-toeing? I’m hoping they’ll write a blanket exemption for vehicles with a manual transmission (the kind with a clutch pedal, not shiftable autos).

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    …To protect privacy, the data on an EDR would be deemed the sole property of the vehicle owner or lessee.

    Now that’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day. I’d say the odds are about the same on that little gem making the final version of the bill and $1.00 a gallon gasoline making a comeback. And I would have to assume that anyone who finances their car and still owes money on it wouldn’t be the legal owner. Is that correct?

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      IANAL, but doesn’t a car loan mean the bank loans you the money to buy the car, but holds a lien against it so they can take it back if you don’t pay the loan? But you still paid for the car – so you’re the owner. Right?

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      And you can guarantee that insurance companies will demand to see what is on it before making any sort of payout after a crash.

    • 0 avatar
      YotaCarFan

      “…To protect privacy, the data on an EDR would be deemed the sole property of the vehicle owner or lessee.”

      I share Sergeant Schultz’s sentiments: the car EDR data will not stay private any more than the data on our personal computers in our homes do when the authorities have reason to suspect a crime was committed. Just ask the Gizmodo reporter who “found” a prototype iPhone, wrote about it on the web, and then came home one night to find the cops had kicked in his front door and carted away all his computers, phones, cameras, MP3 players, and papers. He “owned” the data on those computers, but the data didn’t enjoy a whole lot of privacy.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      This will open the door for the insurance companies to screw the consumer. Sinistermisterman is correct. It won’t be long before it will be required to turn over this information. Even now, this data has been used to f**k over drivers. While I can see a place for this data being used to assist crash reconstruction, I fear that is will be subverted to milk money out of motorists and used to deny claims, or worse yet, a tool to jack rates up. I am aghast at the thought of the car that I bought being used against me. This is the worst technological “breakthrough” in recent memory.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    What is the point of not forcing to release the data?

    If an airplane crashes the airline can’t keep that data secret either. If I have child porn on MY PC and that is evidence against me they also use MY recording equipment against me. (I’m just making an example, of course I don’t have that…)

    If it serves public safety and clarifying the truth, they should use the evidence.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Great…big brother doing nothing but making my vehicle price GO UP!

    LEAVE US ALONE YOU GREEDY, DISHONEST, DISGRACEFUL GOVERNMENT!

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Wow. I’d hate to see your reaction when the government actually does do something to deserve that tirade.

      I’m also not at all sure how any of these provisions would significantly affect vehicle price – though I suppose my lack of instinct for reactionary knee-jerk assumptions is one of the reasons I have yet to stock a Montana shed with sawed off shotguns and wait for the end times.

    • 0 avatar

      Psst, Silvy… this is the same Big Brother government that bailed out your favorite automaker.

      If you’re going to protest federal interference, you can’t pick and choose your battles. It’s quite hypocritical.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    There are some good ideas here, but when you put them all together, it’s just too much. In a time where we really need start-up companies to bring in innovation, each new regulation makes it harder for a Tesla or Aptera or Fiskar to bring a car to market.

  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    “Establishes a Transmission Configuration Standard — Consumers involved in sudden acceleration incidents noted that sometimes the label for “neutral” on gearshifts did not correspond with the actual neutral position of the gearshift.”

    This would likely have saved the life of Saylor (CA cop who died in loaner Lexus ES350 with jammed floor mat). I have an identical vehicle, and the the neutral position on the shifter is ambiguously marked so that it’s easy to think pushing the shifter forward from Sport position will put it in neutral; it won’t. Also, the motion to move from Drive to Neutral (push forward) differs from that to move from Sport to Neutral (slide right, then forward). Since both Sport and Drive provide similar enough function that one can select either position and drive any speed while the transmission automatically up- and down-shifts as needed, it’s not uncommon for drivers to forget which position is selected and get confused when unsuccessfully attempting to select Neutral by pushing the shifter forward.

    • 0 avatar
      roverv8i

      Agreed. I think it has been long established that the shifter should go into neutral by pushing it forward, no need to depress a button, etc. Now that we have added “manu-matics” there does not seem to be any established rules on how to set them up. My Acura TL is similar to the Lexus. When in manual mode you must first move the shifter back to drive before it can be bumped into neutral. One “correct” design would be Chrysler products. They use a side to side shifting motion from the drive position so the shifter can still be bumped into neutral. Sure it’s not as sporting but it should pass the potential new rules.

  • avatar
    Bancho

    I’d prefer an impartial standards body developing these standards. I’d really hate to see US specific standards further differentiate our vehicles from those in the rest of the world like this.

    • 0 avatar
      The Walking Eye

      Yes! Let’s get worldwide standards for vehicles and emissions to get a fully global market. It would only need to be for new cars from year 20XX. I’m surprised free marketers aren’t more adamant about global standards.

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      “I’m surprised free marketers aren’t more adamant about global standards.”

      So, do you want right hand or left hand drive to be the global standard?

      A free marketer isn’t opposed to standard per se but still likes to see unique regional customer needs and wants met by manufacturers.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      The standards mentioned above could apply equally to both right and left hand drive. By using a standards body vs. a single national government, you’re less likely to end up with something which completely excludes RHD in this case.

  • avatar
    Dr Strangelove

    Instead of fiddling with pedal distances and starter buttons, how about some mandatory driver training?

    • 0 avatar
      backspacer

      I agree. But here in the United States of Consumers, I guess we’re reduced to trying to change the effects of people’s behavior by making laws about the things we can buy. You can’t make me drive safer, but you can make me buy a safer car. (Eventually-like in 50 years, when all the cars without this technology are in the junkyard.)

      I’m also worried about the possible death of heel-and-toe. Will the brake override cancel even smallish throttle inputs?

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      @backspacer

      I’m concerned about the same thing, but for different reasons. I drive a manumatic, and if I’m really getting on with it, I’ll trail brake through corners to balance the car; most of the time it’s either throttle or brake (but separated by milliseconds) but there are times when you want to have a few different options to keep the thing pointed in the right direction.

      We’re not talking big percentages, though – if it doesn’t cut the throttle until you’ve got 10 or 15% brake input, or if it cuts it as a linear function of brake input, that should be fine for trail braking.

      With a stick, obviously, it’s going to be different, since you’ll often be hard on the binders when you need to blip – but again, if it only kicks in when one or the other input is pretty close to full scale, it shouldn’t be an issue. The question is whether the regulations are written too tightly or the automakers have their heads up their asses too far for that to be allowed / happen.

      Somehow I can’t imagine BMW failing to comprehend the situation.

  • avatar
    rwb

    Maybe now I’ll be able to heel/toe with my clown feet.

  • avatar

    All in all, I’d rather the government stay the hell out of the car business, period!

  • avatar
    VLAD

    Short version,
    Thou shalt build cars that any third world mouth breather should be theoretically able to operate despite a total lack of licensing standards.

    Politicians taking care of their constituents.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Does anyone know where to find a report of car fatality rate by car maker and car model?

    I can only find an IIHS report on cars before 2004.

  • avatar
    Acc azda atch

    Can anyone PLEASE tell me…

    WTF is the point of keyless ignition?!


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