On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” or “IIJA”). Vehicle, highway, and crash safety improvements were not a major part of the IIJA’s billing. Maybe the lack of publicity on this aspect of the IIJA was the result of the legislation’s overall vast scope. Whatever the reason, the IIJA actually affected (or at least required NHTSA to effect) a number of substantial and consequential vehicle safety initiatives.

It’s now just more than a year after the IIJA’s enactment, so I wanted to discuss the IIJA in the vehicle safety context in a two-part series. In the first part of this series, I discussed what the IIJA is—what did it do/require NHTSA to do? In the second part of this series, I’ll discuss what NHTSA has done to affect the IIJA mandates in the roughly 14 months since it was enacted.

Continue Reading Update on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: Where Are We a Year Later? [Part II]

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” or “IIJA”). Vehicle, highway, and crash safety improvements were not a major part of the IIJA’s billing. Maybe the lack of publicity on this aspect of the IIJA was the result of the legislation’s overall vast scope. Whatever the reason, the IIJA actually affected (or at least required NHTSA to effect) a number of substantial and consequential vehicle safety initiatives. 

It’s now just over a year after the IIJA’s enactment, so I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the IIJA in the vehicle safety context in a two-part series. I’ll first discuss what the IIJA is—what did it do/require NHTSA to do? In the second part of this series, I’ll discuss what NHTSA has done to affect the IIJA’s mandates in the roughly 14 months since it was enacted.

Continue Reading Update on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: Where Are We a Year Later? [Part I]

Part Two of Two – Intelligent Speed Assistance

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all new vehicles be equipped with (a) passive blood-alcohol monitoring and (b) intelligent speed adaptation advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). The NTSB issued these two recommendations after investigating a horrific New Year’s Day 2021 crash that killed nine people in Avenal, California. That crash occurred when an intoxicated driver crossed the centerline of a two-lane highway. At the time, he was traveling 88-98 mph—33-43 mph above the posted 55-mph speed limit. He struck a pickup head-on, tragically killing himself and a family of eight. The NTSB’s recommendations address two problematic aspects of this driver’s conduct that account for significant societal harm in the U.S.: impaired driving and speeding.

Is this anything new? And does it signify a potential move towards strict products liability by auto manufacturers for driver fault via illegal activity? This two-part post will address those questions. In short, the answers are (a) kind of, but not really, and (b) not quite—these technologies are nascent, not state of the art.
Continue Reading Products Liability and Regulatory Implications of the NTSB’s Recent Recommendations on Blood Alcohol Monitoring and Intelligent Speed Assistance [Part II]

Part One of Two – Passive Blood-Alcohol Monitoring

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all new vehicles be equipped with (a) passive blood-alcohol monitoring and (b) intelligent speed adaptation advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). The NTSB issued these two recommendations after investigating a horrific New Year’s Day 2021 crash that killed nine people in Avenal, California. That crash occurred when an intoxicated driver crossed the centerline of a two-lane highway. At the time, he was traveling 88-98 mph—33-43 mph above the posted 55-mph speed limit. He struck a pickup head-on, tragically killing himself and a family of eight. The NTSB’s recommendations address two problematic aspects of this driver’s conduct that account for significant societal harm in the U.S.: impaired driving and speeding.

Is this anything new? And does it signify a potential move towards strict products liability by auto manufacturers for driver fault via illegal activity? This two-part post will address those questions. In short, the answers are (a) kind of, but not really, and (b) not quite—these technologies are nascent, not state of the art.
Continue Reading Products Liability and Regulatory Implications of the NTSB’s Recent Recommendations on Blood Alcohol Monitoring and Intelligent Speed Assistance [Part I]

In early September, Dykema’s Jeff Cox and Dommond Lonnie served as moderators for the DRI’s Strictly Automotive seminar, joining fellow automotive in-house and outside counsel to discuss trending topics in the industry. Jeff’s session, “The Future of Alternative Fuel Vehicles is Already Here,” included a high-level discussion of alternative fuel vehicles, including hybrid, fully electric and hydrogen fuel cell designs, with an update from manufacturers on their short-term and future development, new technology, EV recalls, and a discussion of ways to best defend an EV case at trial. Dommond’s session, “The Future is Electric,” discussed how the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Plan and other developments in the legal landscape are poised to drive widespread acceptance of EV technology.
Continue Reading The Future is Electric

On April 30, 2021, SAE International updated its “Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to Driving Automation Systems for On-Road Motor Vehicles,” labeled SAE J3016_202104. This updated version cancels and supersedes the June 2018 version, labeled SAE J3016_201806. Its basic framework remains intact with six levels of driving automation, ranging from no driving automation (Level 0) to full driving automation (Level 5).
Continue Reading SAE Updates J3016 Standard for Automated Driving Systems With More Clarity and New Terms and Definitions

As first reported by Reuters on April 22, Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) had recently released drafts of an amendment that would allow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to exempt 15,000 self-driving vehicles per manufacturer from safety standards that were written for human drivers. Within three years, that figure would rise to 80,000, and after four years, manufacturers could ask NHTSA to increase exemptions beyond 80,000 vehicles. At this time, NHTSA only allows exemptions of up to 2,500 vehicles per manufacturer.

In a statement, Sen. Peters said the amendment would “ensure that the innovation and testing around autonomous vehicles can continue happening safely under the watchful eye of the Department of Transportation.” The Senators had planned to attach the amendment to “The AI Scholarship-for-Service Act,” a bill providing $100 billion for science and technology research and development with the aim of maintaining U.S. competitiveness with China.
Continue Reading Proposed Amendment to Advance Self-Driving Cars is Postponed Amidst Rising Safety Concerns

The recent Tesla fire in Houston reportedly took four-plus hours to extinguish completely because of continued flareups. This highlights some of the challenges faced by auto manufacturers (and fire departments) as electric vehicles start to take over the roads, including unique issues related to lithium-ion fires.  Dykema attorneys Deron Wade, Jeff Cox and Rebekah Hudgins recently presented a litigation update addressing: “How Going All Electric May Impact the Future of Fire Litigation” (PowerPoint Slides – starting on Slide 21). The first portion of the update addressed: “A Discussion of Jury Selection and Juror Attitudes in the Post-COVID World.”
Continue Reading Hot Topics in Electric Vehicles: Battery Fires

Data security is not just hackers in cyberspace. It also exists in the physical world, and some of it relates to pedestrian but necessary security protocols for nuts-and-bolts objects. A recent report of a data leak shows how focusing exclusively on active systems can lead to unexpected and potentially problematic results.

In the story linked above, a manufacturer of connected vehicles replaced a number of its data storage appliances. A white-hat hacker reported that he had purchased four of the replaced units from eBay and found that they still contained the customers’ personal data, including the owners’ home and work locations, all saved wifi passwords, calendar entries from the customers’ phones, call lists and address books from paired phones, and Netflix and other stored session cookies. This incident follows a report from white-hat hackers last year who discovered drivers’ personal information in the electronic systems of salvaged vehicles.
Continue Reading Data Security: What Happens at the End of the Road?

Earlier this month, Nuro made automotive history when it became the first company to obtain a NHTSA exemption for a driverless vehicle, the R2. Nuro is a self-driving startup created by two former Google engineers. Their earlier version, the R1, is a small electric ‘van’ without a steering wheel or pedals and  designed exclusively for delivery of goods rather than people.

Nuro has been testing the R1 vehicle on public roads in places like Scottsdale, AZ for several years. This vehicle is technically classified by federal regulations as a low speed vehicle (LSV) meaning it has a maximum speed of 25 mph and maximum weight of 3,000 lbs. As a low-speed vehicle, the R1 did not need to satisfy all of the FMVSS requirements for passenger cars and trucks (i.e. standards relating seatbelts, airbags, and steering). But it must still satisfy the minimum requirements of FMVSS 500 including front lights, rear view mirrors, and windshields. Therefore, since 2018, the Nuro R1 has been equipped with these safety features, despite having no human present in the vehicle. For its new R2 vehicles, Nuro requested three exemptions for their driverless delivery vehicle:
Continue Reading Nuro, NHTSA, and the New Autonomous Vehicle Exemption Rules