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The Center for Auto Safety was founded in 1970 by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader as a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group focused on the United States automotive industry. Wikipedia.

News Article
Site: http://phys.org/technology-news/

The voluntary agreement with 20 car manufacturers means that the important safety technology will be available more quickly than if the government had gone through the lengthy process of issuing mandatory rules, said Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, some safety advocates have filed a petition asking the government to issue mandatory regulations. They say voluntary agreements aren't enforceable, and that since automatic braking is already available in some cars, issuing rules requiring the technology could be done faster than the six to eight years allowed under the agreement. Automatic braking systems use cameras, radar and other sensors to see objects that are in the way and slow or stop a vehicle if the driver doesn't react. It's the most important safety technology currently available that's not already required in cars. "A commitment of this magnitude is unprecedented, and it will bring more safety to more Americans sooner," Rosekind said. Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, said the agreement "has the potential to save more lives than almost anything else we can accomplish in the next six years." There are about 1.7 million rear-end crashes a year in the U.S., killing more than 200 people, injuring 400,000 others and costing about $47 billion. More than half of those crashes could be avoided or mitigated by automatic braking or systems that warn drivers of an impending collision, NHTSA has estimated. Of the 194 most popular vehicle models already on the market, 17 come with automatic braking as standard equipment. It is available as part of an options package in 71 other models. The reason automakers don't want to be required to put automatic braking into vehicles sooner than the six to eight years promised in the voluntary agreement is that they don't want to have to redesign vehicles and change production schedules sooner than planned, said safety advocate Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator. "This six- to nine-year lead time is all about the auto companies saving money," she said. The agreement requires that automatic braking be standard in most cars and light trucks with weighing up to 8,500 pounds no later than Sept. 1, 2022. The braking would have to be standard on nearly SUVs and pickup trucks with weighing between 8,501 and 10,000 pounds beginning no later than Sept. 1, 2025. NHTSA estimates that the agreement will make automatic braking standard on new cars three years faster than could be achieved through the formal regulatory process. During those three years, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates, the technology will prevent 28,000 more crashes and 12,000 more injuries than without the agreement. However, the standards for how effective the brakes must be are set so low under the agreement that few if any lives will be saved, said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. Explore further: Automakers commit to put automatic brakes in all cars

News Article | November 11, 2015
Site: qctimes.com

DETROIT (AP) — Shortly after Elizabeth Berry parked her bright yellow 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS on the street in front of her family's home in May 2014, flames engulfed the engine, destroying the car and scorching her mailbox. "I was hysterical. That was like my third baby," she says of the car. Compounding the shock was the fact that five years earlier, Berry had answered a recall notice from General Motors for a repair that was supposed to prevent engine fires. Two weeks ago, Berry learned that she is one of 1,345 car owners in towns across the U.S. whose cars caught fire even after getting the repair called for in the recall. GM acknowledged the fix didn't work and issued a new recall involving 1.4 million older cars, some for a second time. GM advised drivers to park the cars outside until the repairs are done, for fear of flames spreading to nearby structures. The post-recall fires raise questions about whether GM should have acted sooner, whether the government should have taken notice and stepped in, and whether the ineffective fix should have been approved in the first place. After a series of mishandled recalls that involved deaths and injuries, criminal investigations, class-action lawsuits and costs running into the billions of dollars, the auto industry has improved its spotting and reporting of safety troubles. Over the past two years, automakers have recalled about 100 million cars and trucks in an effort to clean up lingering safety issues and catch new ones before they escalate to millions of vehicles. Of GM's 41 recalls this year, the company says about half cover fewer than 10,000 cars or trucks. But cases such as the GM fires, and the government's recent punishment of Fiat Chrysler for numerous delayed recalls show that an old culture of resistance and procrastination can still haunt the industry and car owners. It also shows that despite reforms that have made the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration more aggressive, problems can still go undetected. "Over 1,000 fires is a huge number that should have generated a safety recall by GM before now," says Clarence Ditlow, head of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, a watchdog group. "To make matters worse, NHTSA missed the defect in its complaint database." Problems with the cars, including the Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Lumina and Impala, Buick Regal and Oldsmobile Intrigue from the 1997 to 2004 model years, surfaced as early as 2006. In one North Carolina case, flames spread from a Pontiac and damaged two houses. Overall, GM has reported 19 minor injuries and at least 17 structure fires. The problem: oil seeping through valve cover gaskets designed to keep it inside the engine. The gaskets can deteriorate over time, and inertia from hard braking can cause oil to drip onto the hot exhaust manifold on the 3.8-liter V6 engines, where it could ignite. In 2008 and 2009, GM issued separate recalls for two versions of the V6, covering 1.7 million cars. In some cars the gasket was replaced, but in the majority, only flammable plastic parts near the manifold were replaced. GM spokesman Alan Adler said two weeks ago that if any oil dripped and caught fire, it would cause a small "pilot flame," that company tests showed would burn out on its own. "We were trying to remove anything that would allow the flame to spread," he said. But Jake Fisher, a former GM engineer who now is Consumer Reports' director of auto testing, says the recall should have addressed the oil leak on all the cars. He was surprised GM would allow an open flame under the hood. "I can't imagine a scenario where that would be acceptable," he says. Erik Gordon, a lawyer and University of Michigan business professor, says the decision not to fix the leak shows that GM's culture was to find the cheapest, easiest repair. "This is a 'we'll get out the duct tape' kind of approach," he says. "We're not going to replace the gaskets because that's too expensive." Valve cover gaskets are relatively cheap, but the labor to do the repairs is where the cost lies. It takes about 48 minutes to replace the gasket and do the other recall repairs, according to documents. At a labor rate of around $100 per hour, fixing 1.4 million cars would cost GM roughly $112 million. It's unclear why NHTSA didn't act sooner or whether GM could be fined for not reporting the post-recall fires faster. NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge wouldn't comment on either issue. Automakers are required by law to report safety defects within five days of discovery. A review by The Associated Press of NHTSA's complaint data on just one model, the 2001 Grand Prix, shows 466 complaints of engine fires, including 33 concerning fires after recall repairs were made. Complaints of fires on recall-repaired cars started in June of 2009, more than six years ago. Elizabeth Berry says that after her Monte Carlo burned last year she called GM and a representative told her that recall repairs hadn't fixed the problem. She says GM offered her $2,000 and asked her not to have the car towed or to contact insurance. But her insurance company offered her four times more, so she took that offer and bought a Mazda6. The fires are still occurring. On Sept. 9, freshman Joe Jarmoluk's white 2004 Grand Prix caught fire after he left it in a parking lot at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan. By the time the fire was out, the car was totaled. It damaged four nearby vehicles, melting tires, a bumper and a tail light. Other drivers, Jarmoluk says, were mad at him, with one complaining he'd been left stranded by the fire. Jarmoluk had to buy a new car, and GM has turned down his claim for compensation. Follow Tom Krisher at twitter.com/tkrisher. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tom-krisher

News Article | October 27, 2015
Site: fortune.com

In the early morning of April 22, 2015, two cars carried a group of nursing students slowly along Georgia’s Interstate 16. Stuck in stop-and-go traffic, the Georgia Southern University undergrads inched towards their final day of clinical rotations of their first year of nursing school. Then, suddenly, a tractor-trailer operated by Total Transportation of Mississippi failed to stop for the line of traffic. In the ensuing multi-car pileup, five of the nursing students were killed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has now announced that it will consider mandating all large trucks carry the automatic emergency braking systems that could have prevented that accident, and thousands like it across the U.S. each year. Automatic emergency braking (one of various names for the systems) uses radar, lasers, and cameras to see as far as 650 feet in front of a truck—about three times the typical follow distance on highways. They first signal a driver of upcoming obstacles, and then, if the driver doesn’t react, will slow or stop the vehicle. The technology has been available for nearly a decade, and is already in service in tens of thousands of trucks across the U.S. and Europe. The NHTSA’s acceptance of the petition is “a significant step forward,” according to Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety. CAS joined with other safety groups to petition for the rule. There are still several stages left in the process, but many in the industry think the rule will eventually go into effect. “It’s just a matter of when,” says industry veteran John Flynn, CEO of fleet management provider Fleet Advantage. The systems are already scheduled to become mandatory on many new commercial trucks in the European Union starting Nov. 1. Flynn also points out that the life cycles of large trucks have gotten much shorter in recent years, thanks in part to steadily rising fuel economy standards. That means the new safety technology would penetrate the commercial fleet quickly once a rule is enacted. Large commercial trucks have gotten more dangerous over the last five years. While miles traveled and the number of registered trucks has held relatively steady, the rate of accidents has inched up, from 29.26 fatal crashes per 100,000 trucks in 2009, to 36.86 per 100,000 in 2013. NHTSA also found that in 2013, 64% of those crashes involved frontal impacts by trucks—crashes which could have been prevented or mitigated by automatic braking. Stephen Hampson of Meritor WABCO, which has produced emergency braking systems since 2007, says that fleets using the technology have reported between 60 and 80% reductions in rear-end accidents and associated costs. He says about 90,000 Meritor WABCO systems are already on the road, and that some truck manufacturers already include the systems in as many as 25% of their new trucks. MORE: In trucking, a little automation saves a lot of money Truck drivers, though, often view automatic systems as slights against their professional skills, or even as safety risks. Flynn has seen that resistance to new technology—at least at first. When automatic transmissions debuted, he says, “We had resistance on the front end—they all said, ‘Oh, I don’t want that.’ But all the drivers that got automatic transmission, they’d never go back.” “You have to get over that macho image for a moment,” says Flynn. Meritor WABCO has campaigned hard for driver acceptance, putting on demonstrations across the country to show off the systems’ ability to do the humanly impossible, like seeing through fog banks and dense rain. Hampson also emphasizes that the systems, with their several layers of alerts, are designed to help drivers, not second-guess them. “Essentially what you want to do is re-engage the driver,” says Hampson. “You want the driver to pilot control the truck.” The bigger picture could give truckers a different set of worries. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of automated systems on trucks, including adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and electronic stability control (which NHTSA has already mandated for large trucks by 2017). That buildup is leading, bit by bit, to fully autonomous trucks. While that will be a huge boon to overall driving safety, it could also push human truck drivers out of the picture. But Flynn’s not worried about driver’s jobs. He imagines they’ll be present to monitor automatic systems, while being freed up for planning and paperwork duties on the road. “I don’t think there’s any scenario where there’s not a driver in the truck,” says Flynn. “I don’t see the public accepting that for a long time.” NHTSA officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Sign up for Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter about the business of technology. For more Fortune coverage of automated vehicles, watch this video:

News Article | January 24, 2007
Site: www.wired.com

Over at Gadget Lab, Rob Beschizza calls our attention to the Center for Auto Safety’s campaign against automotive infotainment systems like OnStar and Sync, as reported by the Washington Post’s Cindy Skrzycki: The nonprofit group filed a petition yesterday with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, asking the agency to write rules prohibiting the use of such built-in systems while a vehicle is in motion. The group said traffic accidents will increase if drivers pay more attention to their personal affairs than to the road. While we fear ADD as much as the next blogger, the next blogger happens to be Rob, and Rob is quite rightly creeped out by this kind of creeping nannyism — which is, as he points out, a doomed effort to legislate away stupidity. It may well be dangerous for people to "make phone calls or fiddle with other interactive gear while they drive," let alone watch Iron Chef en route to soccer practice. But the truth is that many drivers already have "a navigation system that gives drivers verbal directions, turn by turn," which is usually sitting in the adjacent passenger seat — and while those systems can also be distracting, you’ll have a hard time banning them. Like anyone who’s operated a motor vehicle in the last five years, I’ve had my share of near-death experiences courtesy of drivers unwilling to put the phone down long enough to signal. That’s why I’m bullish on voice-activated and hands-free. Then again, if the nannies insist on 100% distraction-free driving, maybe we should stop mandating child safety seats and ban the kids who sit in them instead.

News Article | June 7, 2013
Site: www.bloomberg.com

What happens if the U.S. government seeks a safety recall covering millions of vehicles, and the automaker simply says nope? As Chrysler (F:IM) enters into a dispute with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over a request to recall some 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty models built from 1993 to 2007, we may get a chance to find out. The federal agency sent a letter this week requesting a recall over concerns that fuel tanks in the vehicles pose a fire risk in rear-end collisions, citing an inquiry (PDF) that linked the alleged design flaw to 51 deaths. Chrysler says the NHTSA’s conclusions are wrong and flatly declined to initiate the costly recall sought by regulators, saying in a statement: “We believe NHTSA’s initial conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis of the underlying data, and we are committed to continue working with the Agency to resolve this disagreement.” The automaker has until June 18 to give its formal response, although that’s likely to be a second public rejection backed by additional technical details. The conflict started three years ago, when the Center for Auto Safety, an organization founded in 1970 by activist Ralph Nader, asked the government to investigate Jeep. In a November 2011 letter to Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Chrysler and its parent, Fiat (F:IM), the consumer-safety group called the Grand Cherokee a “Pinto for soccer moms,” charging that the model had led to more fire deaths than the notorious Fords (F) that were linked to gas-tank explosions and recalled in 1978. The NHTSA found that the fuel-tank placement on Jeep models, behind the rear axle and high off the ground, make it more likely to catch fire in rear-end accidents. “Our analysis shows the incidents, which are the focus of this request, occur less than once for every million years of vehicle operation. This rate is similar to comparable vehicles produced and sold during the time in question,” Chrysler says. In addition, the company is telling auto buyers to examine its data about the vehicles’ safety—set out in a white paper (PDF) on its website—vs. regulators’ conclusions. Is there a fire hazard? That may depend on whose engineers you choose to believe. Is the case a matter of an automaker taking a principled stand against regulatory findings it believes to be in error—or one in which it’s cheaper for the company to fight with government lawyers than recall millions of vehicles? A recall could cost $500 million, according to a Michigan auto consultant quoted by Bloomberg News. At the same time, Chrysler and its rivals periodically recall millions of vehicles without government prodding, including 630,000 Jeep models pulled back yesterday to fix transmission leaks and airbag defects. If no resolution is negotiated, the next step in the dispute would be a public comment period, then an attempt by NHTSA lawyers to get a judge to enforce a recall. For now, at least, Chrysler appears prepared to let its lawyers take over. “We’ve articulated our position in a tremendous amount of detail why we consider them to be safe,” Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, told reporters. “And that’s it. We’re not looking, I’m certainly not looking, to get into a public tit-for-tat on this issue.”

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