New NHTSA Head eyes Regulation of Hybrid Cars, In-Vehicle Entertainment Systems

David Strickland, the new administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is making automakers somewhat nervous. The latest NHTSA head recently expressed concern at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress on how hybrid vehicles pose a danger to visually impaired pedestrians, and expressed interest in driver distractions posed by in-car infotainment systems.

According to Strickland, limited data from 12 states analyzed by the NHTSA reveal that hybrid vehicles do have a “significant” higher rate of crashes with pedestrians than gasoline-powered vehicles. This was especially true when drivers performed certain maneuvers — slowing or stopping the vehicle; backing it up; entering or leaving a parking space; and making turns. The agency is now investigating the idea of hybrid vehicles possibly emitting some “base level of sound” at low speed to alert visually impaired pedestrians. “We think to be effectively this sound has to be readily identifiable as a vehicle,” said Strickland. (Note, though, that Nissan and Lotus are already considering adding “sound systems” to their hybrid and electric vehicles to alert the visually impaired and the Chevrolet Volt already incorporates such a system.)

Strickland minced no words about car infotaiment systems, saying, “We will not take a back seat while new telematics and infotainment systems are introduced. These have too great a potential to create more and more distraction for the driver.” The NHTSA plans to take a closer look at such systems, especially in their guidelines or requirements.

Strickland also said the NHTSA is working on the 2017 and beyond fuel standards while finalizing rear-back-over standards. The latter, ordered by Congress in 2008, has the agency investigating driver’s ability to view behind the vehicle for disabled individuals and small children. The finding may result in mandatory backup cameras on future vehicles.

Source: Detroit News

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