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NHTSA Plans to Meet with Automakers Over Safety Defects & Cyber Security Concerns

The fallout from 2014’s recalls still has yet to settle out. The General Motors ignition switch defect resulted in millions of recalled vehicles, at least 174 deaths, and at least $4.1 billion in associated recall costs. Emerging just months later, the Takata airbag inflator defect emerged. This defect resulted in at least 139 injuries affecting just under 20 million vehicles. In both cases, the defect was allowed to linger for roughly a decade permitting it to spread widely before it was addressed.

This one-two punch of serious defects has undermined public confidence in automakers and government regulators responsible for catching these problems before they develop into crises. Furthermore, federal regulators including NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind seem to have recognized that the deferential approach to regulation carried out during the 2000s was not detecting problems and enforcing standards as expected. In recent months, federal regulators appear to be more proactive regarding potential vehicle safety defects.

The call for a meeting with automakers to discuss vehicle recall procedures and cybersecurity concerns is hopefully another step towards reforming and strengthening the system that is supposed to protect the American consumer from unsafe and defective cars and trucks.

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Meeting Planned Prior to the North American Auto Show

Fifteen major domestic and foreign automakers were invited to attend the meeting. The invited companies include:

  • General Motors
  • Honda
  • Ford
  • Fiat
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen

While the memo sent to automakers was considered confidential, representatives from the automakers have indicated that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the recent recall failures. Furthermore, cybersecurity issues are also likely to be addressed. The meeting is scheduled to last seven hours and will be held in a government office building at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

According to parties interested in the matter, the meeting is being held to help regulators and automakers coordinate in the lead-up to the North American Auto Show. Reportedly, NHTSA is seeking automakers voluntary consent regarding plans related to improved recall processes and completion rates. NHTSA is targeting a January 15th announcement of these improvements at the North American Auto Show. There is no word regarding contingencies should a voluntary approach to these new recall procedures fail.

Vehicle Defect and Cyber Security Concerns Spurred the Meeting

This meeting comes on the heels of numerous large settlements due to major defects and recalls by the large automakers. In March 2014, Toyota agreed to a $1.2 billion fine for concealing safety risks tied to faulty parts that caused unintended acceleration. The General Motors ignition switch defect and recall was settled in September 2015 with GM paying a fine of $900 million. In November 2015, Takata was fined $70 million due to its improper handling of its defective airbag inflators. If Takata fails to comply with certain conditions, it could be subject to an additional $130 million in penalties. The unintended acceleration, exploding airbag inflator defect, and ignition switch problems are only a few of the issues facing the auto industry and impacting vehicle and highway safety. If you were severely injured from one of those vehicular defects, contact the Philadelphia personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm for help recovering compensation.

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Also at issue are concerns of vehicle hacking as an increasing number of cars, trucks, and other vehicles are equipped with networking features. While these networking features permit for entertainment, multimedia, and some practical navigation features a connection to the Internet can also be exploited. Unfortunately, automakers seem to have been more concerned with adding new bells and whistles rather than ensuring that the feature did not endanger safety. We have previously blogged about GMs failure to repair a full vehicle control hack that could be accomplished through the defective Onstar system in GM vehicles for five years. Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts has also expressed concern regarding vehicle hacking and released a report titled Tracking and Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk. The report addresses a number of concerns regarding network connection vehicles that includes not only the hacking risk, but also the immense amount of personal data collected by “smart” vehicles. It is clear that this personal data which often includes location data is not always properly secured or safeguarded. In short, Senator Markey’s findings include that, “there is a clear lack of appropriate security measures to protect drivers against hackers who may be able to take control of a vehicle or against those who may wish to collect and use personal driver information.”

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