Automakers have agreed to work on fundamental changes in their relationship with the U.S. government using the aviation industry as a model in order to get new safety technology to the marketplace faster, a top safety regulator said Tuesday.
The process of issuing government regulations to correct safety problems takes too many years, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. By the time the regulations are issued, changes in technology make them out of date, he said.
Rosekind alluded to the possibility that the auto industry will agree to safety culture changes and technology voluntarily rather than waiting for the arduous government rule-making process. He said that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx gave him a mandate to identify barriers in regulations and other areas that prevent new life-saving technology from going into cars quickly, and then figure out how to remove barriers to move faster.
Federal officials are grappling with how to get new technology such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications, also called V2V, and self-driving cars into the marketplace. V2V involves cars using wireless communications to send information like speed and direction to surrounding cars. Cars can warn drivers of an impending collision or even brake to prevent a collision before the driver has even seen the other vehicle.
The features such as automatic emergency braking are the building blocks of self-driving cars and are already available in some, mostly higher-priced car models. Auto safety advocates have been urging the government to set standards for such technology. They ask what if one manufacturer’s cars can successfully brake to prevent or mitigate a frontal collision at up to 35 mph, why should another manufacturer’s system work only up to 25 mph.
Rosekind used spreading automatic emergency braking to even the lowest-cost new cars as an example of the kind of problem changing the government’s relationship with automakers might help address.
He asked his staff how long it would take to make a government rule requiring all vehicles to do this, and was told up to eight years.Rosekind has been negotiating with the industry and has an agreement with more than 10 automakers to put the technology on all models, he said.
“If you can beat eight years by one year, two years, anything you do, I will translate for you into how many lives get saved, injuries prevented and crashes deleted. That’s what we’re after,” Rosekind said.
The agreement to work on a new relationship grew out of a meeting Foxx had with automakers in Washington in early December. Foxx told reporters just before Christmas that he hoped to announce a new effort to improve the safety culture of the auto industry based on a management philosophy known as Safety Management Systems, or SMS. The Federal Aviation Administration has promoted the philosophy and it’s in use at most airlines today.