Can ‘tried and trusted’ regulations and standards keep vehicles safe in a digital future?

Last updated: 03-25-2021

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Can ‘tried and trusted’ regulations and standards keep vehicles safe in a digital future?

The first question to ask is what has been tried and is it trusted?

Over the last forty years the winning formula for improved vehicle safety has been the combination of regulatory push and demand pull.

– Regulatory push includes type approval/self-certification and market surveillance (conformity of production and recall). – Demand pull has been led by consumer rating through New Car Assessment Programmes.

NCAPs have played a crucial role in creating a market for safety by building consumer confidence and trust. In arms control the maxim is ‘Trust but Verify’. NCAPs reverse this; our mantra is ‘Verification builds Trust’. After ‘Dieselgate’ trust has taken a huge knock – and trust is not especially strong amongst the major players of digital commerce. There is a lot to be done. Three actions we need:

1. Avoid AV hype. Too often the misleading cliché that 95% of crashes are caused by driver error is used to make the absurd reductionist claim that AVs will eliminate 95% of crashes. 95% estimate understates role of latent errors in road infrastructure and vehicles. It is very unhelpful as it creates totally unrealistic expectations. Far better to build a bottom up case for AVs.

2. Avoid what Liza Dixon has branded ‘autonowashing’ – misleading marketing of systems that are in fact far from fully automated. This is dangerously confusing for the consumer. Nothing new with this – it happened with Electronic Stability Control. That’s why we need a clear distinction between Assisted (SAE L1), Automated (SAE L3) (where driver engagement is always required) and Autonomous (SAE L4&5).

3. Commit to open access to on-line data. There will be a huge public benefit from safety related data analysis and usage. This will be needed for:

– Crash investigation and safety research – Market surveillance (COP/recall) – NCAP – active ‘whole model life’ ratings (CF: IIHS survey of death rates per model).

The OEMs will resist this – just as they fought open access to OBD over 25 years ago. But they will lose. Either because regulators anticipate the need for open access, or because they are forced to act in response to a crisis – which usually causes OEMs serious reputational damage and costs.

I prefer what I call the ‘enlightenment’ approach which will require some system of independent custodianship of safety and security related data. DEKRA have an interesting proposal where relevant data would be transferred by the telecoms service provider to an independent ‘Trust Centre’, run or licensed by public authorities to provide data to legitimate stakeholders. A model like this makes sense.

To conclude my answer is a conditional ‘yes’. Tried and trusted approach has worked especially when it has included the consumer dimension. Transparency will be vital in the digital age. And to build consumer trust – avoid hype, ‘autonowashing’, and guarantee access to data.


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