Consider the world today: Smartphone manufacturers have already introduced vehicle infotainment systems in automobiles. Vehicle safety technology may be next.

A recent safety proposal by the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) raises intriguing questions about how our smartphones and automobiles may interface. The proposal may encourage smartphone manufacturers to add vehicle safety technology to their infotainment system applications. That may start to blur the lines between your vehicle and your smartphone.

Continue Reading Where Does Your Smartphone End and Your Car Begin?

When the fatal car crash involving a Tesla Model S sedan made headlines last fall, we posted about the accident and predicted that government authorities would classify the crash as being caused by driver error rather than an issue with the “Autopilot” system.

Our prediction turned out to be correct.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was still investigating the incident when we first posted about it, but on January 19, NHTSA closed its preliminary evaluation, which found that driver error was responsible.

Still, the performance of Automated Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS, is an area of intense regulatory interest, and it was therefore not surprising to see NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation deploy a special crash investigations team to reconstruct the accident.

Several news reports have characterized NHTSA as having “exonerated” or “cleared” Tesla of any wrongdoing in connection with the crash. Officially, NHTSA merely closed the investigation, noting that it reached no conclusion about whether a defect existed and retained its right to reopen the investigation later.

That said, NHTSA was clearly satisfied with the performance of Tesla’s ADAS system during the crash, which allowed the agency to close its investigation. Continue Reading Truly Exonerated? NHTSA’s Tesla Autopilot Investigation

It might be hard to call the many recent reports of record fines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) “news”, so routine have they recently become.  In 2014 alone, NHTSA issued more than $126 million in civil penalties, exceeding the total amount collected by the agency during its forty-three year history.  As NHTSA trumpets its “success” and regulators are calling on Congress to increase maximum fines  dramatically, one wonders when those civil penalties cross the line into criminal territory.

The Supreme Court laid out a seven-factor test for determining whether statutory penalties are civil or criminal in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144 (1963).  That case involved a dual Mexican-U.S. citizen who left the United States to avoid World War II military service.  The Court held that depriving him of his citizenship as a penalty for leaving the country constituted a criminal penalty that could not be imposed absent constitutional safeguards. Continue Reading When do Civil Fines by NHTSA or the CPSC Become Criminal?

On Thursday, January 22, 2015, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to change its safety ratings program for passenger vehicles by adding two automatic emergency braking systems to the agency’s recommended advanced safety features. NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program currently awards up to five stars to vehicles based on safety features.  Under the proposed change, the two automatic emergency braking systems – crash imminent braking (CIB) and dynamic brake support (DBS) – would be considered by NHTSA when deciding a vehicle’s safety rating.  The proposed change to NHTSA’s safety ratings program is currently in a 60-day public comment period. Continue Reading NHTSA To Change Safety Rating Program

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) issued a final rule requiring vehicle manufacturers to install rear view cameras in all vehicles by May 1, 2018.  Will this new rule lead to new avenues of litigation risk and potential liability for vehicle manufacturers?  If past history is a guide, the answer may well be yes.

This new rule, announced on April 7, 2014, applies to all vehicles under 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, excluding motorcycles and trailers.   NHTSA established a 48-month phase-in period for manufacturers to equip vehicles with rear view cameras.  The phase-in period runs from May 1, 2016 to May 1, 2018.  The rear view cameras must have a 10-foot by 20-foot field of view directly behind the vehicle.  Small volume and multi-stage vehicle manufacturers are excluded from the phase-in but must comply with all requirements by May 1, 2018. Continue Reading Rear-View Liability: NHTSA Issues New Rule Requiring Rear Visibility Technology