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NRC release_notess automotive electronics safety report

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Jan. 25, 2012—The Automotive Service Association (ASA) said the National Research Council’s (NRC) Transportation Research Board recently released a study reviewing automotive electronics safety, which will likely result in electronics safety policy changes.

ASA said the study—which was requested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after the 2009-2010 reports of sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles—was meant to identify how the NHTSA’s regulatory, research and defect investigation programs can be strengthened to meet the safety assurance and oversight challenges created from the use of automotive electronics.

The ASA said key findings from the study include the following:

•  Electronic systems have become critical to the functioning of modern automobiles.
•  Electronic systems are being interconnected with one another, and with devices and networks to provide their desired functions.
•  Proliferating and increasingly interconnected electronics systems are creating opportunities to improve vehicle safety and reliability, as well as demands for addressing new system safety and cyber security risks.
•  By enabling the introduction of many new vehicle capabilities and changes to familiar driver interfaces, electronics systems are presenting new challenges for system design and vehicle-level integration.
•  Automotive manufacturers implement many processes during product design, engineering and manufacturing intended to ensure that electronics systems perform as expected, and to detect failures when they occur.

The ASA said the 16-member committee that conducted the study made the following recommendations to the NHTSA:

•  NHTSA should become more engaged in standard-setting and other efforts aimed at strengthening the way auto manufacturers ensure the safe performance of their automotive electronic systems.
•  NHTSA should convene a technical advisory panel comprised of individuals with backgrounds in the design, development and safety assurance of automotive electronic systems. The panel should be consulted on relevant technical matters that arise with respect to all of the agency’s vehicle safety programs, including regulatory reviews, defect investigation processes and research needs assessments.
•  NHTSA should undertake a comprehensive review of the capabilities that the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) will need to monitor and investigate safety deficiencies in electronics-intensive vehicles. A regular channel of communication should be established between NHTSA’s research program and ODI to ensure that recurrent vehicle safety problems are the subjects of research.
•  Event data recorders (EDRs) should be commonplace in new vehicles. 
•  NHTSA should initiate a strategic planning effort that gives explicit consideration to the safety challenges resulting from vehicle electronics.

“This report likely assures that NHTSA will proceed with policy changes relative to automotive electronics review and safety. The recent security breaches or hacking activities in some vehicles increases the need for automotive repairs to be done by professionals,” said Bob Redding, ASA’s Washington, D.C., representative. “The automotive industry’s effort with the National Automotive Service Task Force’s (NASTF) Secure Data Release Model is an example of independent repairers working with automobile manufacturers to ensure vehicle security. We are hopeful that NHTSA will include independent repairers in the strategic planning process for automotive electronics safety.”

For more information about the NRC’s study, visit the ASA’s legislative website, TakingTheHill.com.

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