TECH: Where Does the NHTSA Stand On Automotive Cyber Security?

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USDOT Sec. Anthony Foxx

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) places most of the responsibility for traffic fatalities firmly on the shoulders of driver error – to the tune of more than 90 percent.

Not being a regulatory body prone to standing idly by and waiting for problems to work themselves out, the NHTSA has taken steps to ensure that automated safety features like mitigated braking, automatic cruise control, blind spot monitoring and alert, lane departure warning and correction, and other collision avoidance features become standard equipment an all automobiles sold in the U.S. in the very near future.


After the NHTSA reported an increase of 7.7-percent in traffic fatalities (from 2014 to 2015), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “Every American should be able to drive, ride or walk to their destination safely, every time. We are analyzing the data to determine what factors contributed to the increase in fatalities and at the same time, we are aggressively testing new safety technologies, new ways to improve driver behavior, and new ways to analyze the data we have, as we work with the entire road safety community to take this challenge head-on.”

Connected, automated vehicles that can sense the environment around them and communicate with other vehicles (and with infrastructure) have the potential to revolutionize road safety and save thousands of lives.

Of course this means that vehicles will need to be rapidly evolving in the technological realm. Vehicle connectivity has gained ground in the last several years. More vehicles than ever are now equipped with internet connectivity – to the point that consumers expect to find it in new vehicles.

Then there’s the latest new innovation – the issue of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2V and V2I) communication, as it pertains to self-driving vehicles, is far from where it needs to be for mass production. But it is an exciting new technology.

The USDOT announced in March 2016 that a key safety agreement with automakers had been reached.  This agreement will require more than 99 percent of new vehicles to have automatic emergency braking standard by 2022. This safety technology could prevent thousands of crashes every year.

The NHTSA is working to require vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems on new vehicles, a technology which could help drivers avoid or mitigate 70 to 80-percent of vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers. The DOT is also working with researchers on technologies that could prevent drunk driving, which is responsible for close to one-third of highway deaths.

With these new and exciting innovations of automobile manufacturing and operation, a whole new set of challenges in vehicle cyber and communication security are presented. If the NHTSA wants to speed the U.S. toward an era when vehicle safety is not just about surviving crashes; it is about avoiding them, then cybersecurity must be an integral part of vehicle engineering, manufacturing, and enforcement. The NHTSA is already laying the groundwork needed for the road ahead, and seems to be looking forward to working with Congress, manufacturers, suppliers, and the American public in an exciting transportation future.

No single approach is sufficient because, in the automotive cyber security realm, efforts must be ever moving, adapting, and improving. To that end, the NHTSA will continue to explore numerous approaches, including internal research, independent testing, analysis conducted by the agency, and communication. The NHTSA cannot do this alone, but neither can vehicle manufacturers or suppliers. Their efforts will need to be collective, collaborative, and complete.

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S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.