Washington — The House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning to hold a hearing next week on a new draft auto safety reform measure that would require automakers to write new privacy policies, notify owners of recalls by email and encourage tougher steps to avoid cyberhacking of vehicles.
The draft bill would give automakers credits toward meeting fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions requirements by adding advanced safety technologies; require upgrades to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall website; and create a program in which states would notify owners of uncompleted recalls at the time of registration or renewal of license plates.
The Detroit News obtained a 62-page draft of the bill written by Republican staff aides on the committee and circulated Friday. The committee is planning to hold a hearing Oct. 21 on the new auto safety reform measure. Major auto trade associations are expected to testify.
The bill would make it unlawful to hack into a motor vehicle to gain access to the vehicle’s controls and impose up to a $100,000 civil penalty. NHTSA would be compelled to create a automotive cyber advisory council that would include all automakers that sell at least 20,000 cars a year, the Defense Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NHTSA and others. At least half of the group members would need to be automakers.
The group would develop best practices for the industry that would be approved by a majority. The council would meet at least annually to update the recommendations. Automakers could then submit plans to comply with the best practices and would again oversight from the Federal Trade Commission if they took part.
“Drivers and their loved ones can never be too safe on the roads and our work to boost vehicle safety continues. Jobs and safety have been hallmarks for generations of American automakers — and imagination and ingenuity have sparked some of the most remarkable advancements in safety and performance, all the while putting millions of Americans to work,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess, R-Texas. “However, there is an urgency for improvement with both automakers and NHTSA as the next generation of vehicles and innovation are set to emerge.”
NHTSA would also have to study whether to set new rules requiring automakers to ensure rear seat crash worthiness — as they currently do with front seat occupants. NHTSA would study whether to require additional air bags, head restraints, seat belt air bags or any other rear seat safety measures.
NHTSA would also have to assign new safety ratings for advanced vehicle technologies. When 85 percent of all vehicles had a technology, it could be removed from the new vehicle window stickers.
The credits that automakers could get emissions credits include forward collision warning, adaptive brake assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, autonomous emergency braking and connected vehicles that could communicate with other vehicles. Automakers with three or more technologies could get credits starting in the 2018 model year on the theory that fewer crashes would reduce overall fleet greenhouse gas emissions by resulting in fewer traffic tieups.
NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said the agency has no comment.
Automakers would be required to submit privacy policies for driver data to NHTSA and could be fined up to $1 million if they violate those policies. If automakers submitted those policies, they would not be subject to oversight by the Federal Trade Commission.
Under the bill, the Transportation Department would be required to set rules requiring a senior official responsible for safety in any automaker to certify that the submission is truthful and not misleading. Congress gave NHTSA the option of requiring automaker corporate responsibility reports, but the agency has yet to issue rules. NHTSA would have one year to finalize those rules.
The bill would also allow auto dealers to search and process multiple VIN numbers in a single batch request — to make it easier to track open recalls.
If an owner gave an automaker his or her email at the time of purchase, the company would be required to notify them of a recall by email rather than by mail. Automakers recalled nearly 64 million vehicles in 2014 and often send numerous notices to owners — so avoiding mailings would potentially save automakers a significant amount of money.
The bill would require NHTSA to study whether to require seat belts on all school buses.
NHTSA would also create an annual plan on its areas of focus that would include “the administrator’s policy priorities” and any new planned rules. NHTSA would also be required to update Congress on its efforts in complying with recommendations for reforms from the Transportation Department’s Inspector General issued in June.
It would require the inspector general to conduct a new audit on whether NHTSA is adequately monitoring recalls to ensure the scope and adequacy of recall completion rates and the collection of new data on children involved in vehicle crashes — and what types of restraint systems were used.
A separate report from the Government Accountability Office would look at whether NHTSA could do a better job of public awareness and whether NHTSA had adequately upgraded its website. NHTSA would also have to update its guidance to the public on how to file complaints about auto concerns and what supporting documents and photos to submit.
The inspector general’s office said in June that NHTSA fails to carefully review safety issues, hold automakers accountable for safety lapses, carefully collect vehicle safety data, or properly train or supervise its staff. And it says NHTSA rejects most staff requests to open investigations into suspected defects.
The bill would give automakers credits toward meeting fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions requirements by adding advanced safety technologies. It would also legalize small firms to make up to 500 replica “classic vehicles” a year without having to meet all safety and emissions rules.
The latest draft obtained by The News Wednesday dropped an earlier proposal that was in a draft circulated Friday that would have created a national database of vehicle identification numbers. In the 66-page draft circulated then and obtained by The Detroit News, states would have been required to submit vehicle identification numbers to NHTSA within two years to create a nationwide vehicle database.
The vehicle database would have been in place only to be used for automakers in notifying vehicle owners of recalls. Currently, automakers rely on their own database of owners to notify owners, but often contract with data vendors to locate some owners.
The bill doesn’t have some safety provisions in a Senate bill that was considered this summer. That bill would have hiked recall fines to $105 million — up from the current maximum $35 million.