Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

A To-Do List for the Incoming U.S. Transportation Secretary

by Roger Lanctot | 12月 07, 2016

Speculation is already swirling around the newly-named U.S. Transportation Secretary to be, Elaine Chow. Chow previously served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush and is thought to prefer a light regulatory touch.

Arriving in the wake of Secretary Anthony Foxx who has served 2.5 years and Ray LaHood who served 4.5 years, she finds the agency in the midst of a downward spiral toward the very light regulatory touch she is thought to prefer. LaHood was accused by some safety advocates of cutting backroom deals with car makers. Foxx’s term was characterized by voluntary programs (automatic emergency brake adoption) and guidelines (distracted driving mitigation, autonomous vehicles, security, privacy) lacking the force of laws or mandates.

The softened approach of LaHood and Foxx reflected the lack of interest within the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill for more interventionist approaches to regulating the automotive industry which was writhing in the depths of bankruptcy when the current President took office. Unfortunately, this legislative and executive indifference coincided with a tidal wave of vehicle recalls and a whirlwind of technological disruption impacting vehicle electrification (Tesla) and autonomous driving (Alphabet).

To top things off, the close of the Obama administration is bookmarked by an unexpected, protracted and so-far unexplained rise in highway fatalities.

Legislators took advantage of industry slip-ups (Takata, GM, Toyota, VW) to publicly flog senior auto industry executives on C-SPAN while calling for various reforms regarding the sale and rental of cars with open recalls, to close vehicle security gaps and establish privacy guidelines. But there was more smoke than light amid all the press conferences and press releases.

In the end, the underfunded and undermanned U.S. Department of Transportation has only one item pending on the agenda, which is the vehicle-to-vehicle mandate awaiting the signature of the President to commence the next phase of the V2V rule-making process. By now, expectations are that even with the President’s endorsement, the incoming administration might well reverse the decision.

The arguments for a V2V mandate – primarily relating to collision avoidance – are matched by an array of arguments against include concerns such as security, privacy, spectrum efficacy, cost, and reliability. Capping the objections is the emergence, during the 10+ year V2V development history, of cellular-based LTE-V2V and 5G technology using the same wireless spectrum and capable of delivering the same solution.

It is in this broad context that I offer the incoming Transportation Secretary my updated To-Do List – 2.5 years after I offered similar thoughts to outgoing Secretary Foxx.

#1 – Mandate: Do Not Touch Your Phone While Driving.

The current state-by-state patchwork of anti-texting and driving laws and hands-free phone laws have created confusion and inhibited compliance and enforcement of driver distraction mitigation measures. A single, simple nationwide guideline with pre-approved legislative language and a deadline for adoption will crystalize consumer understanding while simplifying the planning of car and app developers and the wireless industry.

#2 – Mandate Car Companies to File Distraction Mitigation Plans.

Require car companies to respond to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Phase 1 and Phase 2 driver distraction guidelines with stated plans and policies for mitigating driver distraction including in-vehicle interface policies and plans for dealer training and consumer education. Create a nationwide database of car crashes with known driver distraction causes to be reviewed and investigated with car makers and their suppliers.

#3 – Endorse the Creation of a VIN-based Next of Kin Notification Database.

The California legislature has considered legislation in the recent past that will ensure law enforcement personnel can notify next-of-kin quickly in the event of a traffic incident in which victims are incapacitated. It can take days for family members to learn their loved one was killed or seriously injured in a crash.  If law enforcement officers can tap into such a database and obtain contact information within seconds necessary to notify designated emergency contact(s) lives can be saved.

#4 – Explore the Creation of a Vehicle Extraction Database.

Emergency responders lack a quick and easy way to understand how to safely extract crash victims from heavily damaged vehicles without coming into contact with dangerous airbag igniters, seatbelt tensioners and electrical sources. A nationwide database accessible by emergency responders is required.

#5 – Restore Self-Certification to the Process of Allowing Public Testing of Self-Driving Vehicles.

Promoting and supporting this technology is a stimulus package that will be widely welcomed by the automotive, wireless, and semiconductor industries – and the general public. Liability remains with the creators of the systems. Any data collected from these vehicles related to crashes and handoff of control incidents during operation must be organized and reported to USDOT.

#6 – Initiate a Process for Mandating the Installation of V2V Modules on Commercial Vehicles in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, 8.

In 1999, spectrum was allocated without an auction or fees by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. in the 5.9GHz band for dedicated short range communication (DSRC) applications. For 16 years, the industry has been testing and hypothesizing about those potential applications, but the country has precious little to show for the effort.

DSRC is intended to save lives by ultimately enabling safer driving by creating a driving environment where cars communicate with each other and with infrastructure. The inability of the DOT to drive adoption of the technology in the large-volume passenger vehicle market segment has meant 16 years wasted while preserving usage of the 5.9GHz band for the auto and fleet industries.

By now it is clear that the FCC has lost patience with the DOT and is threatening to open up that spectrum to unlicensed use – something the ITS community is strenuously fighting to prevent. Nothing would be more effective than to foster immediate adoption of DSRC for commercial fleet applications.

A mandated adoption of DSRC in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, and 8 will create an immediate market for DSRC applications and stimulate adoption of DSRC technology in passenger cars as well. The rationale and use cases are too numerous to describe here, but the efficacy of such a strategy is manifest. This could be the last chance for standalone V2V technology, independent of the cellular network, to come to market in the U.S.

#7 – Require the Installation of DSRC Modules on All Emergency and Service Vehicles.

Knowing the location and movements of emergency vehicles is of critical importance to both drivers of passenger cars and transportation authorities. In addition, responding emergency vehicles have a need to know the presence of other vehicles potentially responding to an event. The rationale and use case here is clear. The live-saving prospects will be immediate.

Service vehicles parked along highways are a routine hazard faced by drivers every day. No amount of cones, signs or lights can replace the power of a wireless beacon embedded in such vehicles warning off heedless drivers of passenger vehicles – night and day.

#8 – Highlight Elements of Next Gen 911 Research Focused on the Acquisition of Crash Scene Information Including Text, Video, Data and Voice via Smartphones and Embedded Systems.

The U.S. is leading the charge to enhance the acquisition of information associated with vehicle crashes.  The U.S. has focused on enhancing the capabilities of the 911 responder community to capture all forms of inputs from crash scenes.

With the rise in highway fatalities has come the need to apply big data analytics to crash investigations including everything from time of day and weather conditions to age of and vehicle type etc. The only way to mitigate the rise in highway fatalities is to gather more data and information gathered from the scenes of crash incidents will be decisive.

#9 – Support Investment in Multi-modal Transportation Initiatives Emphasizing Public Transit and Carpooling/Ride Sharing.

The DOT can do more to foster the sharing and dissemination of public transit information for the purpose of stimulating app development and, as a result, increase awareness and expand usage. Apps have the power to make transit more user friendly and the DOT should support these development efforts – more DOT hack-a-thons perhaps?

#10 – Set Specific Vision Zero Targets Along the Lines of CAFE

The Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) program has had a substantial impact on vehicle design with the objective of improving the fuel efficiency of the entire U.S. installed vehicle fleet. Similar objectives ought to be instituted for reducing highway fatalities with car companies given specific fatality-reduction targets. This is obviously the most radical and outlandish of my recommendations which is why I have saved it for last. I don’t think it is entirely unreasonable, but I also suspect it is beyond the scope of the USDOT. A guy can dream, can’t he?

Welcome aboard, Secretary Chao. There is a lot of work to do and I have only addressed the automotive portion of the task lying before you. With highway fatalities on the rise, it is clear your country needs you … again.

Previous Post: It's TomTom Time ... Again | Next Post: #CES2017: Aftermarket to the Rescue

Let's talk

Now you know a little about us, get in touch and tell us what your business problem is.
Inquiry / Message:

please enter captcha from left