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House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Motor Vehicle Safety Provisions in Highway Bills

Many witnesses expressed concern for overlapping themes that included standards for use of new technology in vehicles, safety of passengers and importance of accountability for vehicle-related mishaps.

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The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade recently held a hearing to discuss the motor vehicle safety provisions in the House and Senate highway bills. Many witnesses expressed concern for overlapping themes that included standards for the use of new technology in vehicles, safety of passengers and importance of accountability for vehicle-related mishaps.

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Witnesses included the Honorable David Strickland, administrator for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Strickland discussed the importance of NHTSA having more authority to ensure better safety on America’s highways.

He noted that the Senate has included several helpful provisions that would strengthen the agency’s capabilities. These include:

• Increased authority to address safety hazards caused by some imported motor vehicle equipment.

• Protection for consumers affected by safety defect or non-compliance recalls from manufacturers that file for bankruptcy.

• Increases in the total amount of civil penalties NHTSA can seek for safety-related violations.

"Together, these enhanced authorities would permit NHTSA to ensure motor vehicle and equipment safety on a broader basis than we can today," Strickland said. "The Senate bill also includes a number of rulemakings that the agency has under way. For example, we published the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for keyless ignition systems last December and expect to issue a final rule in the near future. We’re also considering Notices of Proposed Rulemaking for Brake Override and Event Data Recorders and conducting research on Pedal Placement."

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Strickland went on to suggest that there are other areas in which NHTSA would like more authority:

• Authority to require action by used car dealers or rental companies with regard to recalled vehicles.

• Clarification of authority over the safety-related aspects of portable electronic devices in vehicles to address the clear and serious distraction hazard they pose.

• Clarification of authority over devices external to vehicles that will be essential to ensure the safety, security and effectiveness of vehicle-to-vehicle communications in order to realize the enormous safety benefits these systems may bring.

• Direct appellate review of recall orders to ensure that manufacturers have the opportunity to challenge orders while avoiding lengthy district court trials during which time no recall is in effect to protect consumers.

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Another witness included Ami Gadhia, a senior policy counsel with Consumers Union (CU), the public policy and advocacy wing of Consumer Reports. She made additional suggestions for the Senate version of the highway bill, including:

“First, as CU has discussed since the unintended acceleration concerns arose in 2010, NHTSA should mandate intuitive, clearly labeled transmission shifters in all new cars. If a car is accelerating out of control, our engineers have advised that hitting the brakes and shifting into Neutral is a driver’s best strategy. However, the advent of gated and electronic shifters can make finding Neutral difficult if the driver is in a panic. Shifters should be designed so that a driver can quickly identify the Neutral position and easily shift gears to regain control."

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Gadhia also suggested:

"Regarding distracted driving, NHTSA is currently in the process of finalizing its guidelines for manufacturers regarding ‘in-car’ distractions, such as the streams of textual information that appear on dashboard screens. CU is pleased to see the development of these guidelines. However, to ensure the widest application of these guidelines, CU recommends that the guidelines be incorporated into NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). Once made a part of the NCAP, in-car distractions could be evaluated on a star-rating system, like other critical safety features, and consumers could utilize the ratings as they make purchasing decisions."

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Gadhia’s testimony also stated: "CU would also like to see vehicle roof strength requirements strengthened. Specifically, we would also like to see a dynamic rollover test, not simply a static roof crush test as is currently the case. A static test gives us an idea of how strong a car’s roof is, but it does not tell us anything about the dynamics of the occupants in the vehicle in a rollover. Many fatalities occur when the occupants hit their heads on the roof of the car or on the ground once the car has rolled over, even though the roof has not deformed. CU therefore recommends that NHTSA adopt a test that would evaluate the complete vehicle system – as the agency does in frontal and side crash tests – so credit can be given for seat belt pretensioners and side airbags that deploy in a rollover to help keep the occupant in the seat and away from impact with either the roof of the car or the ground."

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More information:

To view the full testimony from this hearing, visit ASA’s legislative website.

 

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