Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday it is considering imposing vehicle electronic requirements and asked major automakers to consider if voluntary standards for vehicle electronics make sense.

NHTSA said in a notice Monday it was updating automakers on its “progress on examining the need for safety standards” for passenger cars — something Congress required it to do in a 2012 law.

The law requires NHTSA report to Congress on the highest-priority areas for safety for electronic systems.

The safety agency has come under criticism for failing to recognize a problem with the ignition switches of General Motors cars that are now linked to at least 23 deaths. NHTSA didn’t know that GM’s computer controls deactivated air bags if the ignition switch accidentally moved into the “off” or “accessory” mode.

Even though vehicles have a growing number of electronics systems, they largely aren’t governed by any performance rules. NHTSA’s rules focus on performance of the car rather than electronics.

“NHTSA currently has research under way that is evaluating the hazards associated with electronic control systems that could impact a vehicle’s steering, throttle, braking and motive power, the agency said in a notice posted Monday in the Federal Register.

NHTSA noted the number of vehicle recall campaigns has increased significantly in the past 20 years, nearly tripling from 222 in 1993, to 654 last year.

The first general use of automotive electronics dates back to 1970s, NHTSA said. By 2009, a typical automobile featured more than 100 microprocessors, 50 electronic control units, five miles of wiring and 100 million lines of code, the agency said.

Automakers have issued dozens of recalls this year for electronic issues, many to update software to address a litany of problems.

The agency is researching new potential electronics-related rules.

“NHTSA currently has research under way that is evaluating diagnostics and prognostics for critical safety systems. We seek comment on vehicle health monitoring, diagnostics, and prognostics capabilities and fault-tolerant design alternatives for automotive safety applications,” the agency said.

NHTSA requires all vehicles to have an anti-rollover technology called electronic stability control but hasn’t moved forward with most other related rules.

In 2006, NHTSA set final rules that specify the minimum data that should be collected if a manufacturer decides to voluntarily install an event data recorder in their vehicle. NHTSA in December 2012 proposed requiring event data recorders on all vehicles required to have front air bags, but the agency hasn’t finalized the regulation yet.

NHTSA’s competence involving vehicle electronics came into question after Toyota Motor Corp.’s recall of more than 10 million vehicles for sudden unintended acceleration issues in 2009 and 2010.

NHTSA to launch probe of 938K Fords

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday it is opening an investigation into 938,000 Ford cars after reviewing more than 500 complaints about steering and reports of four crashes. In addition, Chrysler is recalling more than 31,000 full-size commercial vans to fix a problem with headrests.

NHTSA said it is opening a preliminary investigation into 2010-12 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ cars because of problems with electric power-assisted steering that led to difficulty steering. NHTSA also received Early Warning Reporting data from Ford.

“Many of the complaints indicated observing a power steering warning message as the failure occurred. In some cases, the condition was corrected by turning the vehicle off and restarting. However, many reports indicate the condition returned again after restart,” NHTSA said.

The Chrysler recall covers 2014 Ram ProMasters. The company says the headrests can exceed the maximum allowable gap between a person’s head and the head restraint.

Staff and wire reports.

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