New NHTSA Chief takes on hybrids and more

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The Chevrolet Volt as seen at the 2009 auto show.

The Chevrolet Volt will come with a "hybrid noise system" pre-installed. Image from Flickr.

David Strickland, the new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head, has only been in office since January. With only three months under his belt as boss, though, David Strickland is speaking out about many vehicle safety issues. Recently, Strickland spoke out about the safety of hybrid vehicles, in-vehicle “infotainment” systems and the back-up visibility in vehicles. So what changes might we be seeing soon?

Hybrid vehicles need more noise?

Recently, at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, David Strickland raised concerns about the silence of many hybrid vehicles. A very limited analysis of 12 states shows that hybrid electrics have higher rates of pedestrian crashes. Because many pedestrians, including blind pedestrians, rely on the noise of a vehicle, the relative silence of hybrid vehicles can be very dangerous. The NHTSA is investigating requiring a “base level of sound at low speeds.” Electric car vehicles from Nissan, Lotus and Chevrolet already include “base noise” systems.

Distracted by infotainment

Most high-end vehicles now include so-called “infotainment” systems. While these systems can be used as GPS locators and radios, many of these systems also play DVDs. David Strickland expressed his concern about these systems “have too great a potential to create more and more distraction for the driver.” The NHTSA has not issued any strict standards yet, but it is possible that these GPS, TV, and radio systems may well be restricted in future-model vehicles.

Rear Back-over standards

The NHTSA is also planning on taking on rear back-over standards. Congress required the NHTSA to take on this issue in 2008, but the new standards won’t be instituted until 2017. In effect, rear back-over standards will create standards for what a driver can see while backing up the vehicle. Most industry watchers believe that this will, in effect, require back-up cameras on most vehicles. This will help reduce the number of backing-up accidents, especially for larger vehicles such as SUVs and minivans.


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