Auto Industry, U.S. Reach Agreement to Improve Safety, Cybersecurity

By Jeff Plungis | January 20, 2016

The U.S. Transportation Department and 17 automakers have reached agreement on efforts to enhance safety, including sharing information to thwart cyberattacks on their increasingly wired vehicles.

Automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. also agreed to reform the way they report fatalities, injuries and warranty claims to the government. The companies agreed to keep meeting regularly to exchange information and identify emerging safety issues.

“Today DOT and the automakers represented here are taking a strong stance in favor of a new approach, an approach that leans heavily on being proactive and less heavily on being reactive,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Detroit Friday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The company executives, including General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne had met with Foxx in Washington in December. The transportation secretary asked the companies to come up with voluntary measures they could agree to outside the traditional regulatory framework.

Best Practices

On cybersecurity, the companies and regulators agreed to suggest best practices, share lessons learned and find ways to engage researchers to identify emerging threats. They’ll work with the information sharing and analysis center the auto industry established last year.

“Last fall, we took an unprecedented step in getting in the same room, to get more proactive and less reactive.,” Foxx said. “Real safety is finding and fixing defects before someone gets hurt rather than punishing them after damage is done.”

The automotive effort is based on practices at the Federal Aviation Administration, where airlines participate in a safety management system that has dramatically reduced plane crashes, Foxx said.

GM is proud to be part of the effort, Barra told reporters in Detroit.

Improved Recalls

“I do think we’ll look back and see this as very historical,” Barra said. “There’s a strong sense of commitment on everyone’s part to focus on safety.”

Fiat Chrysler is in the middle of a companywide effort to improve safety that’s included a doubling of vehicle-safety staff, better use of analytics to quickly identify potential defects, and a campaign to improve the numbers of cars repaired in company recalls, Marchionne said in a statement today.

Fiat Chrysler “remains committed to the continued development and democratization of safety technologies that help mitigate the impact of driver error — the root cause of most crashes,” Marchionne said. It “will continue to engage in a collaborative industry approach which leverages the strength and knowledge of all participants to promote these principles.”

The news follows an announcement yesterday in Detroit that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will allow automakers with safe autonomous vehicles to apply for exemptions to certain rules. It’s part of the new approach by the agency designed to ensure government doesn’t stand in the way of technological progress.

Self-Driving Cars

Regulators also announced their intention to award about $4 billion in grants to fund demonstration projects that can help speed the development of self-driving cars.

Last year, 10 companies committed to make automatic emergency braking standard in all new vehicles. The companies made the commitment rather than waiting for a federal mandate, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said at a speech in Detroit Tuesday.

All of the good news at the auto show in Detroit this week, including record sales and profitable companies hiring more American workers, had been tempered by record numbers of recalls and a series of record-breaking fines.

The proactive approach to safety should work to make everyone safer, Foxx said. If it doesn’t, NHTSA will still be ready to enforce the law.

“Make no mistake, NHTSA stands ready to use all of its tools, including its enforcement and regulatory authority, to protect public safety,” Rosekind said on Tuesday. “We have no hesitation to do so when it is necessary.”

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