U.S. regulators seek brake-throttle override mandate for all light vehicles
NHTSA chief David Strickland: "We learned as part of the comprehensive NASA and NHTSA studies of high-speed unintended acceleration that brake override systems could help drivers avoid crashes."
U.S. regulators today proposed a requirement that light vehicles have an override mechanism that enables a driver to stop a car or truck if the accelerator pedal gets stuck.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was proposing the brake-throttle override rule because research showed it can reduce the risk of high-speed unintended acceleration and prevent crashes.
The override technology, which many automakers already make available, enables drivers to stop a vehicle if the brake and accelerator are depressed at the same time.
NHTSA will hold a 60-day public comment period once the proposal is published in the Federal Register. After the public comment period, NHTSA will review the proposal before it finalizes the requirement.
The federal agency didn't offer an estimate on how much it would cost manufacturers to add the technology, only saying it could be done "without significant difficulty or cost."
"America's drivers should feel confident that anytime they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles -- especially in the event of an emergency," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
"By updating our safety standards, we're helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake."
The proposal comes in the wake of 2009 and 2010 recalls by Toyota Motor Corp. for problems related to unintended acceleration. The automaker ended up recalling millions of Toyota and Lexus vehicles worldwide and paying fines of $48.8 million for failing to order the recall in a timely manner.cq per clips
A 10-month investigation by NASA and NHTSA into the matter found no electronic defect in Toyota models. The agencies blamed the incidents on pedals that got stuck or caught under floor mats.
Since the Toyota recall, regulators have become more aggressive about addressing the issue. NHTSA has been exploring a brake-throttle override system mandate since 2010.
Thousands of reports
NHTSA officials did not mention the Toyota recall in a statement today about the proposed requirement. But in the rule's proposal, the agency notes that it received "thousands" of reports of unattended acceleration over a 10-year period starting in January 2000cq.
Said NHTSA administrator David Strickland: "We learned as part of the comprehensive NASA and NHTSA studies of high-speed unintended acceleration that brake override systems could help drivers avoid crashes."
The technology works by cutting power to the engine when the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed.
NHTSA, by ordering all vehicles be equipped with the systems, said it aims to reduce the risk of drivers losing control if accelerator electronics fail or the pedal gets stuck or trapped by the floor mat.
Toyota has made brake-override systems standard on all models beginning with the 2011 model year. Other automakers such as Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Hyundai Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. also offer override mechanism on some or all of their models.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it has supported the brake-override standard since 2010, when the rule was first proposed.
The alliance, which represents 12 automakers, including the Detroit 3, said it's still reviewing NHTSA's proposal and expects to offer input during the public comment period.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety in Washingtoncq, said the Toyota recall helped cast a spotlight on the dangers of unintended acceleration. His group has been pushing for the regulation since the advent of electronic throttle controls.
NHTSA's success will largely depend on "how rigorous the standard is," Ditlow said.
A simple software fix won't always suffice, he added, since it will only upgrade the vehicle's existing electronic control unit. If that unit is already compromised, it won't help.
Rather, Ditlow said carmakers should consider installing a second control unit, one separate from the main electronic controls, to monitor pedal activity.
NHTSA's proposal doesn't specify how carmakers should design their override systems, only that they pass certain performance tests.