WASHINGTON—A draft proposal to improve vehicle safety and security might create as many problems as it solves, according to testimony before a House subcommittee from government officials and association executives.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee held the hearing, “Examining Ways to Improve Vehicle and Roadway Safety,” in Washington Oct. 21.
Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, said the staff discussion draft was designed to increase accountability and improve safety practices among vehicle manufacturers.
“There is no room for slow when it comes to safety, and deception cannot be tolerated,” said Burgess, an obstetrician and gynecologist by trade.
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has “significant concerns” about the draft, according to NHTSA Administrator Mark A. Rosekind.
The draft, Rosekind noted, would require the creation of a system to notify owners of recalled vehicles when they register or re-register those vehicles with state motor vehicle agencies.
While such a system is potentially useful, Rosekind said, the technology is not yet in place.
“Under the draft proposal, states that do not meet the requirement would get kicked out of the National Driver Register, an important tool for identifying habitual traffic offenders and ensuring that commercial drivers have clean records,” he said.
The draft also acknowledges the importance of cybersecurity, privacy and technology innovations, according to Rosekind, but its provisions might have the opposite of the desired effect.
“By providing regulated entities majority representation on committees to establish appropriate practices and standards, then enshrining those practices as de facto regulations, the proposals could seriously undermine NHTSA's efforts to ensure safety,” he said.
Rosekind also objected to the provision requiring NHTSA to prepare recall actions in coordination with manufacturers and forbidding the agency from making recalls public until manufacturers issue complete lists of vehicle identification numbers for affected vehicles.
“This proposal would require NHTSA to withhold safety defect information from the public and give the manufacturers responsible for the defect control over the timeline and release of NHTSA-initiated recall actions,” he said.
The Federal Trade Commission expressed concerns over the privacy and security provisions of the discussion draft.
The privacy provisions, for example, would give manufacturers a “safe harbor” from FTC enforcement actions, said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection.
“Under this proposal, manufacturers can satisfy the requirements of this section without providing any substantive protections for consumer data,” Mithal said.
“For example, a manufacturer's policy could qualify for a safe harbor even if it states that the manufacturer collects numerous types of personal information, sells the information to third parties and offers no choices to opt out of such collection or sale,” she said.
Ann Wilson, senior vice president of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, said MEMA supports the inclusion of auto parts suppliers and independent repair shops in the Automotive Cybersecurity Advisory Council proposed in the discussion draft.
However, the draft also must include assurances that independent repairers have access to vehicle cybersecurity information, according to Wilson.
“The majority of service—approximately 70 percent—is performed by the independent aftermarket,” she said. “Technology in new vehicles contains enhanced electronic information about vehicle systems that are critical to diagnostic and repair work.
“The independent aftermarket must have access to this data to ensure that motorists have access to a wide range of repair options as they do today,” she said.
Among the organizations that also testified at the hearing were the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Automotive Recyclers Association.