Last week, Senate bill S.1449, known also as the `Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011′ or `Mariah’s Act’, was voted out of committee and placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar. This typically means an unofficial agreement has been struck between members and the bill will soon be voted on.
The bill authorizes funding for highway safety and contains Congress’ wish list for all-things-automotive that need regulatin’.
It’s important to note, this isn’t the final legislation. Once it clears the Senate floor, where it could be changed again, the House of Representatives will have a chance to potentially add their regulatory must-haves.
Why here? Why Hoon? The changes in this bill could impact what we drive and how we drive it. Below are just a few nuggets I pulled from the bill. If you want to read the whole thing – be my guest! The link is here.
It knows you’ve been drinking (Sec 111):
This section directs NTSHA “to explore the feasibility and potential benefits of and public policy challenges associated with more widespread deployment of in-vehicle technology to prevent alcohol-impaired driving.”
NHTSA already has a grant in place to reward states that have a mandatory interlock (ignition locks) program for convicted drunk drivers. This appears to suggest an even more proactive means at combating drunk driving by leveraging in-vehicle technology.
I can see the headlines now – “Drunk man sits fire to truck after SYNC refuses to start.”
Ohhh-Dometer (Sec 207):
This section increases the fine for violating Chapter 327 of Title 49 (Odometers) from $2,000 to $10,000 for each violation. If you plan on “disconnecting, altering, or tampering with an odometer” – be prepared to pay more.
Got a safety secret? Call the NHTSA hotline (Sec 302):
This provision is a new play on an old dance – whistleblowing. Not only does it require NHTSA to setup a confidential hotline for automotive personnel, it requires them to publicize that hotline in a way that “targets mechanics, dealerships and manufacture personnel.”
The goal is to get employees in the auto industry comfortable with reaching out directly to NHTSA when they believe a safety issue isn’t being reported or addressed by the manufacturer. This is new territory and will be interesting to see how the auto industry, both retail and corporate, react.
Recalls for All (Sec 303):
Ever try to find a non-safety recall on a vehicle? Many of these are housed on internal corporate databases/websites that are accessible by dealers only. Not any longer.
Now automakers will be required to make that information available to the public via a WWW property. This includes “all notices to dealerships of software upgrades and modifications recommended by a manufacturer for all previously sold vehicles. Notice is required even if the software upgrade or modification is not related to a safety defect or noncompliance with a motor vehicle safety standard.”
Need to file a complaint? See your manual (Sec 307):
This section requires automakers to “affix, in the glove compartment or in another readily accessible location on the vehicle, a sticker, decal, or other device that provides, in simple and understandable language, information about how to submit a safety-related complaint to the National.” How to submit a complaint will also need to be printed and placed in the new owner’s manual as well.
Whistleblower Protections for Auto Employees (Sec 308):
This amendment to Title 49 means an employee cannot be fired, discriminated against, loose pay or have any negative action taken against him/her for providing or planning to provide any information to NHTSA or other agency regarding a vehicle defect, noncompliance or any other violation of the law.
In other words, if you snitch – your boss can’t touch you.
Like most whistleblower programs in the federal government this will likely be handled by the agency’s Office of Inspector General.
There doesn’t appear to be a stipulation for disclosing information to the media which means an email to firstname.lastname@example.org while appreciated, might still get you fired.
This is a colossal undertaking for NHTSA, DOT and all the automakers. They will all need to work together to ensure industry employees are educated on whistleblower protections.
This change won’t have a direct impact on vehicle owners, at least not an immediate or outward impact. The average car owner can expect to see a whistleblower poster or sign in the service bay at their dealership.
The real impact to consumers will come when an industry employee makes a communication that results in a safety recall.
If you want to read more on this, I wrote about it at length a few months ago: LINK.
NHTSA, I quit. General Motors, hello (Sec 309):
If you work at NHTSA as a ‘covered vehicle safety official’ and leave, you cannot, for a period of 2 years, ‘communicate or appear before any officer or employee of NHTSA on behalf of an automaker.
Just last week we learned that Ron Medford (the #2 guy at NHTSA) would join Google as the Director of Safety for the G-Car in January.
Had this law be enacted and Google determined to be a car company, this law would have prohibited Medford’s move.
The Senate’s version of the most recent highway bill (MAP21 Act) signed by the President contained similar anti-revolving door language. Upon conference with the House that language was dumbed down into simple report language.
The language here in this bill could face the same fate. I assume a member of Congress or a professional staff member on the House Transportation Committee doesn’t agree that NHTSA needs an anti-revolving door policy. We’ll see if this provision holds up.
Title 4 is titled Vehicle Electronics and Safety Standards. It touches many different electro gadgets in the car and establishes a “Council for Vehicle Electronics, Vehicle Software, and Emerging Technologies.” The council’s mission – better understand vehicle electronics, to better regulate vehicle electronics.
Brake over-ride / standard stopping distance (402):
Directs NHTSA to establish metrics on how long it takes to stop a vehicle while at applying full throttle at the same time. You guessed it. This is unintended acceleration medicine. The performance will be based on the size and weight of the vehicle and will also require some redundant backup for vehicles with electronic throttles. Question is – will this eradicate the ability to do standing power brake burnouts? *gasp*
Go Pedal Makeover (Sec 403):
This is a preventative form of unintended acceleration therapy, Pedal Placement Standard. NHTSA will be required to say how big, where and what kind of accelerator pedal OEMs will have to use. This could mean bad news for heel-toe applications depending the outcome. You’ll want to keep an eye on this rule.
Gremlins Are Dead (Sec 404):
Dear VW owner’s, REJOICE! This section establishes standard “electronic systems performance requirements.” While this is aimed at systems interfering with one another and the security of those systems (hacking), cross your fingers it’ll result in an overall improved German electrical system. Or not.
Bring back the key?
Keyless ignitions – they are in just about every car today. This means the masses have them. And you’ve heard the stories – Car left running, kills owner. Not only can’t the masses remember to turn off their car, they are confused on how to stop it during a runaway car situation.
Congress hopes to fix that by directing NHTSA to establish rules and standards regarding pushbutton ignition systems.
No Xbox while Driving (sec 407):
This section would create a rule that would prohibit “broadcast television, movies, video games, and other forms of similar visual entertainment that is visible to the driver while driving.” Isn’t this already a law? Thankfully the folks on Capitol Hill were wise enough to include an exception for navigation, weather, time and audio settings. Not included in that exception – Top Gear reruns (sad).
DING! You left your BFF in the backseat (sec 503):
Title 5 looks to make a few changes aimed to better protect children from their stupid parents. If you forget you have a child in your car, you’re a..@#$%^ moron.
Sec 503 creates a rule that would provide a safety belt warning to any rear occupants. At the same time Sec 504 creates a similar rule that would remind the driver (horn blowing?) that a person was still seated in the rear of a vehicle. These two technologies would use things like weight sensors and a buckled-belt to determine if a person was in fact in the car.
The law also aims to standardize the child anchor systems, specifically it will define a maximum child weight and improve accessibility and visibility of the anchors.
Phones vs GPS (Sec 108):
This section prescribes laws and punishments states must have in place in order to qualify for federal grants aimed at distracted driving awareness and prevention. Under this section a “personal wireless communications device” expressly excludes a “global navigation system.”
I find it odd the law went out of its way to state “does not include a global navigation satellite system receiver used for navigation purposes.” People who buy standalone navigation systems are either new to technology or they own an iPhone5. Excluding the latter, wouldn’t someone new to technology, fumbling around with a GPS while driving, make them just as dangerous if not more than someone texting?
Congress loves you!
If you’re still reading this – thank you for sticking around. I know this wasn’t standard Hooniverse programming. I find comfort in knowing what Congress has in store for our beloved automobile.
It’s like looking back to see the belt in you parent’s hand. It’s still scary, and it’s still going to hurt, but there is comfort in knowing what was coming.
Now get out there and buy up all the cars that’ll still let you power brake them while watching Xbox!