STATEMENT OF PETER KURDOCK
ADVOCATES FOR HIGHWAY & AUTO SAFETY
NHTSA PUBLIC MEETING
UPDATING THE NEW CAR ASSESSMENT PROGRAM
OCTOBER 1, 2018
Good afternoon. I am Peter Kurdock, General Counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). Advocates is a coalition of public health, safety, and consumer organizations, insurers and insurance agents that promotes highway and auto safety through the adoption of safety laws, policies and regulations. Advocates is a unique coalition dedicated to advancing safer vehicles, safer drivers, and safer roads.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide brief comments today. Advocates will also be submitting written comments to the docket after this meeting.
According to the federal government, each year motor vehicle crashes kill tens of thousands of people and injure millions more at a cost to society of over $800 billion. According to the latest statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 37,461 people were killed on our nation’s roads in 2016. This is an increase of over five percent from 2015, and it follows a seven percent increase from 2014 to 2015. Preliminary data from 2017 and the early months of 2018 unfortunately do not indicate meaningful declines in crash fatalities. These grim figures call for prompt government action, not a focus on eliminating essential safety programs and regulations that have saved countless lives.
By any measure the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) has been exceedingly successful. The program has been copied the world over and has provided necessary safety information to consumers for decades. NCAP is an invaluable tool in helping to ensure Americans have the information they need in order to purchase safe vehicles that will protect them and their families. As NHTSA states in the current notice, “[f]rom its inception, NCAP has played a significant role in educating consumers on vehicle safety as a key factor in their vehicle purchasing decisions.” In addition, the program serves as an important incentive for automakers to place the latest safety technologies into their vehicles. As such, Advocates firmly supports NCAP and believes it is a crucial resource to reduce the needless deaths and injuries that occur on our Nation’s roads each year.
Advocates also supports updating NCAP to ensure that the program is both keeping pace with the current state of technology as well as maximizing its benefits to safety. However, as was the case with the 2015 proposal by NHTSA to update the program, we are deeply concerned with the lack of specificity provided in the current notice. The agency must provide much more detail moving forward on how it plans to revise NCAP so the public can properly review NHTSA’s proposals and provide useful input. However, let me be clear, Advocates does not believe that an update to NCAP should be further delayed. In fact, it is long overdue. Advocates simply urges NHTSA that as it moves forward it does so with the proper level of detail and transparency.
Advocates has always enthusiastically championed technology and for good reason. It is one of the most effective strategies for reducing deaths and injuries. NHTSA has estimated that since 1960 more than 600,000 lives have been saved by motor vehicle safety technologies. NCAP can provide significant safety benefits by harnessing market forces to encourage the early adoption and implementation of new safety technologies. However, these benefits can be undercut when performance requirements are not established and when safety systems are not considered as part of the star rating which consumers rely on most readily when comparing vehicles. Therefore, Advocates urges the agency to include currently available technologies that have already been proven to have substantial safety benefits in the rating program. Research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has demonstrated that current advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Automatic Braking have safety benefits by reducing crashes. These technologies should be part of the NCAP rating program to further facilitate their widespread dissemination into new vehicles. In addition, Advocates concurs with the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recent recommendation that pedestrian safety systems including pedestrian collision avoidance systems be included in NCAP. When considering whether to include a new technology in NCAP, the agency should seek and evaluate research performed by independent researchers such as IIHS as well as the recommendations of the NTSB, the Nation’s premier transportation safety investigator. This information can be invaluable in determining the effectiveness of new systems and their potential to be included in NCAP.
As NHTSA stated in the notice for this meeting, ADAS are the building blocks for automated vehicles (AV). While Advocates believes that AV technology has the potential to significantly reduce the deaths and injuries caused by crashes, it is critical that during the next 10 years, as self-driving cars continue to be developed and may be deployed, other safety advances which have already been shown to have proven safety benefits are not ignored or left on the wayside. While Advocates is optimistic about the potential future safety benefits of driverless car technology in the long term, we do not believe that near-term safety technologies should be abandoned.
In fact, NHTSA is currently in breach of several mandated deadlines set by Congress in the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act (Pub. L. 112-141) to issue regulations requiring rear seat belt reminders, updating lower anchorages and tethers for children (LATCH) systems for child occupants and improving occupant protection in motorcoaches. Rear seat belt reminders are available on a number of vehicles here in the United States and are standard equipment on several models tested by Euro NCAP. According to NHTSA, nearly half of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities for which restraint use was known were not wearing seat belts. These systems increase seat belt use and should not only be part of the NCAP rating but should also be standard equipment in all vehicles.
The agency also has also yet to comply with a mandate included in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Pub. L. 114-94) that requires crash avoidance technologies such as AEB to be listed on a motor vehicle’s Monroney Label. In order to abide by this Congressional mandate, NHTSA should require that each and every one of these technologies be prominently and concisely listed on the label. This approach not only will ensure that a potential buyer is given clear and thorough information, it will also provide the greatest incentive to manufacturers to place these lifesaving systems into new vehicles. Despite this rulemaking being almost two years overdue, the agency stated in the current notice that implementation of this regulation will be subject to a separate proceeding in the future. The unconscionable and unnecessary delays in completing these rulemakings which will save lives and prevent serious injuries and were mandated by Congress with bipartisan support are unacceptable.
Safety systems that are not required as standard equipment by federal regulation are promoted by vehicle manufacturers as optional equipment, but are often sold bundled together with non-safety features and only in certain vehicle model trim levels. As such, safety conscious consumers looking to buy a car with certain safety systems often have to pay a steep premium for equipment that could save the life of a passenger, child, bicyclist or pedestrian. The current practice of bundling identified safety technologies into convenience packages which include non-safety features benefits the manufacturer’s bottom line, but not the wallet of consumers. It forces consumers either to risk their safety and the safety of others to avoid paying extremely high prices for crucial safety features not yet required by federal safety rules or to purchase non-safety features and equipment they do not want in order to get a desired safety protection feature. Or, some consumers are simply unable to afford the additional costs and cannot get the benefit of the safety equipment. Therefore, Advocates has long stood for the democratization of safety through requiring manufacturers to sell as a stand-alone option any safety device, feature or technology that is listed by NHTSA as a recommended safety feature by NCAP. Any such safety device, feature or technology that is offered on any trim level of a vehicle model must be offered on all trim levels of that vehicle model.
Of the top five manufacturers which comprise nearly 70% of the U.S. vehicle market, three of them apparently only offer AEB as an option and only on a portion of their models. While the dispersion of this life saving technology into the fleet has shown improvement over the past several years, without regulation, innovation is left to the financial interest of the industry and adoption is often limited to the most expensive vehicle models. Not only does this limit the number of vehicle users afforded the safety benefits of new technologies, but it also does not provide a minimum standard for performance. Therefore five different manufacturers can have five different systems, theoretically all called AEB, performing at varied levels of effectiveness, and consumers are left in the dark. Regulation is the best and swiftest means for ensuring that the consumers who purchase less expensive vehicle models will be afforded the same basic minimum safety benefits that are voluntarily built into more expensive models and that they are protected with a minimum performance level.
NCAP is one of the most critical programs administrated by NHTSA and we look forward to participating further in the agency’s efforts to modernize this essential public safety initiative. Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments today.