"We couldn't find anything, but we're still blaming the car." That's the gist of the statement from a National Academy of Sciences panel headed by New Jersey Institute of Technology physics professor Louis Lanzerotti. The NAS supports U.S. regulators shutting down investigation of Toyota unintended acceleration incidents without finding electronic faults that would cause the behavior. However, at the same time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is planning to call for further oversight and more study to attempt to rule out electronic causes.

About the only thing that's concrete is that crashes happened. To be fair, electronic faults can be tricky to pin down, even with far simpler systems than the networked-computing setups that modern cars universally employ. That's why event data recording is already part of many automotive systems, along with a high degree of redundancy and fault tolerance. Many carmakers also already program engine management to douse the throttle with brake application in certain situations. Few are more interested in catching intermittent, potentially catastrophic problems than the companies building the cars, and most have already implemented the systems these organs of the state are calling for. Even so, the NAS and NHTSA appear keen to write these tendencies into law. Read the NAS' press release after the jump.

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Unintended Acceleration Controversy Reveals Need for NHTSA to Anticipate Safety Challenges From Automotive Electronics, Says New Report



WASHINGTON -- The increasing role of electronic systems in automobiles creates new safety oversight challenges that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must address explicitly and proactively, says a new report from the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board. As these electronics systems become more complex, interconnected, and capable, safety assurance demands will grow, as will the need to maintain public confidence in their safe performance. NHTSA will need to become more familiar with how manufacturers design safety and security into electronics systems, identify and investigate system faults that may leave no physical trace, and respond convincingly when concerns arise about system safety.



The Research Council's study was requested in the aftermath of the 2009-2010 reports of sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles. NHTSA attributed these events to drivers pressing the gas pedal by mistake and to two other issues -- pedals sticking or becoming entrapped by floormats -- remedied in subsequent safety recalls. Although NHTSA concluded that errant electronic throttle control systems (ETCs) were not a plausible cause, persistent questions led the agency to ask for further investigation by NASA, which supported NHTSA's original conclusion. The agency also commissioned the Research Council study for advice in handling future issues involving the safe performance of automotive electronics.



The Research Council report finds NHTSA's decision to close its investigation of Toyota's ETC justified on the basis of the agency's investigations. However, it is "troubling" that NHTSA could not convincingly address public concerns about the safety of automotive electronics. Relative to the newer electronics systems being deployed and developed, ETCs are simple and mature technologies. To respond effectively and confidently to claims of defects in the more complex electronic systems, both in present-day and future vehicles, NHTSA will require additional specialized technical expertise.



"It's unrealistic to expect NHTSA to hire and maintain personnel who have all of the specialized technical and design knowledge relevant to this constantly evolving field," said Louis Lanzerotti, Distinguished Research Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "A standing advisory committee is one way NHTSA can interact with industry and with technical experts in electronics to keep abreast of these technologies and oversee their safety. Neither the automotive industry, NHTSA, nor motorists can afford a recurrence of something like the unintended acceleration controversy."



The report recommends that NHTSA establish a standing technical advisory panel of individuals with backgrounds central to the design, development, and safety assurance of automotive electronics systems. Composed of experts on software and systems engineering, human factors, and electronics hardware, the panel should be consulted on relevant technical matters that arise throughout the agency's vehicle safety programs, including regulatory reviews, defect investigation processes, and research needs assessments.



NHTSA rules require that vehicles have certain safety features and capabilities, but do not prescribe how manufacturers meet these standards. The manufacturer has the primary responsibility for designing electronics systems and for testing them to ensure that they work as intended. In addition to setting and enforcing safety rules, one of NHTSA's main roles is to spot and investigate safety defects that escape the automotive manufacturers' own safety assurance processes and to order safety recalls when necessary.



The report recommends a strategic planning process to guide the agency's fulfillment of these critical responsibilities as cars become more technologically complex. A strategic plan that engages top NHTSA leadership and defines the resources and capabilities required by the agency will help balance the mandate to be both proactive about automotive electronics and responsive to other safety priorities. In the future, the possibility of electronics leading to increasingly autonomous vehicles presents a new set of safety challenges and will demand even more agency planning and foresight.



NHTSA should also conduct a comprehensive review of its Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) to determine the specific capabilities needed to monitor and investigate flaws in electronics-intensive vehicles. The report recommends that NHTSA's research program assist ODI in finding ways to improve consumer complaint reports and other data that the office relies on to identify safety defects in vehicles and to assess their possible causes.



The report evaluates a number of NHTSA's rule-making and research initiatives, including the installation of event data recorders (EDRs) on all automobiles to inform safety investigations. EDRs should be commonplace in all new vehicles, the report concurs. It also endorses NHTSA's plan to conduct research in areas such as layouts for gas and brake pedals and intuitive designs for keyless ignition systems. It recommends that this study be a precursor to a broader human factors research initiative in collaboration with the automotive industry to ensure that electronics systems and drivers interact safely.



The study was supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org. A committee roster follows.


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  • 84 Comments
      Robert Fahey
      • 3 Years Ago
      "So far, Bigfoot has also proven untraceable, but we still assume campers are mauled by bears. Boy are we naive."
      The Mean Dude
      • 3 Years Ago
      Smythe LOL! Ignorant bastards? Try this on for size....ask any of these workers and you will find this to be true! These assembly workers do NOT get paid well....maybe Walmart well, but not well. AND all the white collar jobs (Where the money is) engineering ect are done?????Not here, over seas. AND the profits do not stay here.....they go over seas. So, as you run to Walmart in your Jap car to buy those sneakers made in China, dont bitch that your kids cant find a job!
        houseiowapark
        • 3 Years Ago
        @The Mean Dude
        That is so true!!! I have said that for years. I hear the argument that these cars are made here. Maybe so but the profits go overseas. I buy only domestic autos and always will. People want to argue about quality. Talk to the hand, I say. I have always had great luck with Dodge, Ford, Chevy and Cadillac. When Americans begin refusing to buy import everything, we may actually have some jobs. Sheeple wonder where the jobs are now and they are overseas. That is where they went. You won't find me driving a rice burner.
      WillieWang
      • 3 Years Ago
      This shows how bad the news cycle is today. Autoblog and its sibling websites constantly peddle rumors. Problem with rumors is that once is spread, there are least 100 other trolling websites that will pick up the rumors like they at Las Vegas. I really do like reading Autoblog but I find that this and other "news" websites peddle rumors as if these rumors are true. And entities who are brunt of these rumors have to constantly defend them. Rumor spreading is really obnoxious. I am not fan of Toyota but I think Toyota got the unfair coverage over the unintended acceleration.
        BG
        • 3 Years Ago
        @WillieWang
        You are right, especially when you consider the "operator error" factor that so many people refuse to acknowledge.
        MKIV
        • 3 Years Ago
        @WillieWang
        Couldn't have said it better myself.
      jorwmu
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well thanks to all the idiots that started buying Japanese cars in the 80's & screwing over millions of American workers in the end. The Japs sold cars here for cheaper than it cost to build/ship them & obliviously American car companies couldn't compete. So, the big 3 had to start shipping jobs to Mexico just to compete & morons kept buying Jap cars. Well, now the big 3 are making awesome cars & Jap companies are on the ropes & I love it. I hope a few companies failed in CA when midwest auto workers stopped buying goods as CA were the biggest offenders. Who knows if our empire will totally fail like Soviet Union but if we keep buying foreign goods (China), then were screwed. BUY AMERICAN b4 theres no America left!! And to the Japanese, sorry bout your luck lately but, YA HA SCREW YOU & try ruining US again m GOD will send another earthquake:)
        joper201
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jorwmu
        Hey you big dummie! Most Asian cars are built in AMERICA by AMERICANS. The ONLY ONE getting screwed is the UAW! MY 1976 Toyota PU is going strong with almost a1/2 MILLION MILES on it. My youngest grandson is driving it. When I gave it to the grandkids I had it painted, a few dings removed and the seat rebuilt. EVERYTHING else is original except several brake jobs and 3 clutches. My grandson has a standing offer of $2500.00 if he ever sells the truck. My 1991 V6 I sold to a friends dad and he has over 300,000 miles on it. My 98 Toyota PU had about 189,000 miles on it when I sold it. My 07 Tacoma has 120,000 miles on it. ALL of the trucks mentioned are all original and have NEVER NEEDED to go back to the dealer. I had 1991 F-250 4X4 to pull our 5th wheel trailer. At 53000 miles it needed a new transmissiom and at 93000 a lifter froze up, ground the cam and I had to put a new engine it. There would NEVER have been as large a market for Asian vehicles if you UAW jerks built a quality product. Toyota and Honda have FORCED the Big 3 to build better vehicles. It sounds like the investigating teams have about as much in the brain sense as you do. DUHHH! We can't find ANYTHING wrong with the Toyotas but we're going to blame the car any way. They sound like reject UAW investigators.
          smurfquarterly
          • 3 Years Ago
          @joper201
          why are toyota and honda service departments and body shops always busy then ?
        Stew
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jorwmu
        Good thing you din't read the source article, otherwise.. you may have *gasp* learned something to steer you away from your racism.
      mapoftazifosho
      • 3 Years Ago
      Personal liability is out the window in the US and has been for a while. I'm fat, it's McDonald's fault...my Ford Explorer flipped over and it's the automakers fault that I was speeding with under-inflated, poorly worn out tires and no seat-belt...
        TelegramSam
        • 3 Years Ago
        @mapoftazifosho
        Here's a hint, Corporate Culture is not one of liability. That's why corporations exist, to divert liability from an individual. When we give corporations rights as people, we confuse our culture and make people think they can act like corporations.
      fredyacht1
      • 3 Years Ago
      Jap garbage
      LesPaul1
      • 3 Years Ago
      By "electronic glitch" they mean "not knowing how to drive"
      djgautomotive
      • 3 Years Ago
      Toyota never did have a problem with its vehicles. The problem is in the wiring of the drivers brain. They thought/belived/would swear they were pressing hard on the brake, but they were actually pressing hard the throttle. If a Toyota (or any car) accelerated by itself, even full thottle, it can be brought to a stop immediately using the brakes. People that testified before Congress about their Toyota's, left out that little fact, that they could have stepped on the brakes and stopped the car. For those that claimed their scary experiences lasted for many minutes could have shut off the key, taken the car out of gear. Crazy drivers almost put Audi out of business in the 80"s making a similar claim. The car accelerating from a stop by itself when putting on the brakes. Audi then invented the brake lock (all cars have it today). The driver has to press on the brake FIRST otherwise the car would not go into gear. Guess what? No more driver complaints. The black box is the only solution to prove driver error.
        smurfquarterly
        • 3 Years Ago
        @djgautomotive
        so you're suggesting Toyota owners are a collection of nincompoops and idjits ? must be to buy that junk.
      merlin1649
      • 3 Years Ago
      Japan laughs at you everytime you buy one of their products. You help finance their country while America suffers. You don't see their bridges falling down do you? It's because they can afford to maintain and even improve their infrastructure with your dollars.
        Annika
        • 3 Years Ago
        @merlin1649
        If US carmakers would stop producing crappy cars maybe more people would buy US-made cars.
          houseiowapark
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Annika
          Why are Buicks and Cadillac such coveted cars in Japan and China? Tell us that.
        houseiowapark
        • 3 Years Ago
        @merlin1649
        They laugh at you everytime you buy one as they drive their Cadillacs and Buicks. That is no joke.
      Sukairain
      • 3 Years Ago
      The electronic glitches occur most often in the human brain. Ever drop a pen out of the blue? ever spill drink on your shirt like a 1 toddler and you have no clue what happened? Ever mistaken the gas pedal for brake pedal and then tried to blame the car for it? Yes the dog ate the homework, move along.
      cygnusxg1
      • 3 Years Ago
      My 2007 Toyota Four Runner was eventually listed for the accelator recall. I laughed when I found out the fix. Idiot people were buying bigger floor mats which did not fit correctly, potentially causing the accelator pedal to get "stuck". Fix was a 5 minute shaving of the accelator pedal, to make it smaller to accomodate a bigger floor mat. Seeing as I still had OEM mats, I opted to not "fix". I have owned multiple Toyotas and always maintain according to owners manual- never any problems. However, when I bought a 2004 Dodge Dakota it was nothing but problems, even with routine maintenance. Main seal failed with 67,000 miles. Four wheel drive had problems, etc. Even after all their difficulties with this, Toyota still holds a high place in car sales and manufacturing. Where was the uproar over the couple million fords recalled recently, what was it for engine fires? It is funny to read the rascist remarks about Japanese people...how many of you idiots have a Sony TV, or a Sony Playstation, or a Nikon Camera, or a Nakamichi stereo receiver, or compact discs or blurays. These are the same people who when faced with a natural disaster, did not loot, returned found monies and safes, etc.
        screwamammoth93
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cygnusxg1
        that is not the point, you should not have to "shave" the accelerator pedal, toyota should have thought of that and designed it to be shorter in the first place... the problem was and is that they do not give a damn and still don't, they are just sorry they got caught, but they know people are gonna buy thier cars any way, they just want americans money
      smurfquarterly
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have repaired collision damaged cars since 1968.The best money I ever made was in Toyota and Honda dealerships .The hardest I ever worked was in GM shops ,the main reason being that Japanese cars aren't built as strong as American cars and trucks, therefore it's much easier to repair or replace their flimsy body components and there is always a parking lot full of easily damaged cars.
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