Fiol Law Group|Posted in Car Accidents on March 27, 2017
The Toyota recall crisis has brought motor vehicle safety back into the national spotlight, sparking public outcry, controversy and no shortage of legislative action. Congress is now considering the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (MVSA), which aims to address many of the same safety issues highlighted by Toyota’s safety recall debacle.
Many of the MVSA’s provisions focus on preventing unintended acceleration in passenger cars, the main safety concern in the Toyota recall. The act would establish a minimum clearance for foot pedals, likely in response to Toyota’s early claims that the incidents of unintended acceleration were caused by faulty pedal design and pedal obstructions due to ill-fitting floor mats.
In addition, to prevent injury in cases of equipment failure or malfunction, the MVSA calls for more redundancy in the controls of new automobiles, including mandatory override braking systems on all new vehicles to allow drivers to stop even if the throttle is stuck open.
Black Box Data Recorders
One of the most controversial provisions of the MVSA would require all vehicles sold in the United States to be equipped with “black box” data recording technology.
Much like the recording devices used in airplanes, automobile black boxes are built to withstand crashes, and to record events before and after accidents to aid in investigation after the fact. Data recorded may include information such as the speed of the vehicle at the time of impact and whether or not the brakes were applied.
While they are not yet mandatory, many automobile manufacturers already install black boxes in the new vehicles they produce. But because this takes place on a voluntary basis, the technology is not standardized, and different recorders collect different types of data, making it less useful.
In addition to the lack of uniformity in the data collected, the procedures for collecting and interpreting the data can also vary widely by manufacturer, making it difficult to put the information to use. Toyota, for example, installs black box devices in its new vehicles, but accessing the data after a crash requires a specialized device not readily available in the U.S. Furthermore, a specially-trained Toyota employee must be available to interpret the data after it is downloaded from the black box, making independent review more complicated.
Black box recorders have the potential to provide crucial evidence to plaintiffs injured in automobile accidents. By providing corroboration of an injured party’s explanation of a crash (showing that brakes were applied before an impact) a recorder could help a plaintiff receive compensation in a case that might have been lost in the past for lack of evidence.
On the other hand, critics caution against an over-reliance on technology, pointing out that a device malfunction could lead to the wrong party being held responsible for an accident.
Privacy advocates also raise concerns that mandatory black boxes could threaten consumers with an invasion of privacy, particularly since these devices may soon include an in-cab video component – which, combined with GPS location technology, could theoretically be used to monitor drivers’ movements in real time.
Transparency and Accountability
Not only did the Toyota recall fuel a push to incorporate more safety-oriented technology into the design of new vehicles, it also highlighted the need for more transparency and accountability on the part of automakers when safety issues do arise. Toyota has been widely criticized for delaying its disclosure of safety concerns prior to the massive recall.
One way that the MVSA aims to achieve this is by streamlining the safety hazard complaints process. One MSVA provision would require all new cars sold to display a sticker or device in an accessible location to provide information to drivers about how to report safety concerns to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The act also calls for the NHTSA to establish a confidential hotline for reporting potential safety defects, making it easier for dealers, mechanics and manufacturers to report defects without fear of retaliation.
The act would also establish whistleblower protections for manufacturer, dealer and parts supplier employees, and would require that senior executives verify the accuracy and thoroughness of all responses to NHTSA’s requests for information relating to safety investigations. The MVSA provides that these executives would be subject to civil and criminal penalties for knowingly signing off on replies containing false, misleading or incomplete information.
Finally, the provisions of the MVSA also call for potential safety hazards to be made public at an earlier stage of the investigation process unless the information is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Critics of this provision argue that early public disclosure would create rather than prevent secrecy in the industry, and could cause competitive harm to companies that take proactive measures by reporting concerns early on.
MVSA Does Not Address Distracted Driving
One thing the MVSA does not address is the nation’s growing distracted driving problem -even though the increasingly prevalent use of cell phones and text messaging while driving creates a significant safety risk. However, another piece of pending federal legislation – the Distracted Driving Prevention Act – aims to encourage states to address the issue themselves by awarding grants to states that enact distracted driving laws or continue to maintain those already in place.
While many states have already passed laws specifically banning or limiting cell phone use and other distractions while driving, Florida does not have such a law.