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Transpo Sec. Fox Set to Announce “Historic” Autonomous Vehicle News

Setting the stage for rapid change.

by on Jan.14, 2016

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox is planning to announce what is being described by his office as “new actions on vehicle automation,” though a senior member of his department has also hinted that it will be part of a “potentially history-making” series of steps in terms of improving highway safety.

With the support of both the auto industry, as well as many state and regional regulators, Fox is expected to announce that the Department of Transportation will take steps to make it easier for the industry to develop, test and eventually bring to market a new generation of semi- and fully autonomous vehicles. The ultimate goal is to sharply reduce the number of deaths on U.S. highways.

Insight!

It’s one of three announcements set to come from Washington in a matter of weeks designed to spur innovation and improve safety, Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said this week, noting that, “These actions going forward (will) change the nature of the auto industry.”

(more…)

EPA, DOT Aim for 54.5 mpg by 2025

How will automakers meet these new rules?

by on Nov.17, 2011

Automakers could build more electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf to offset gas-powered vehicles. New fuel economy rules for the 2017-25 model years introduced Tuesday are projected to save nearly $6,600 worth of fuel per vehicle, offset by an extra $2,000 per car in new technology to improve fuel economy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled their joint proposal that increases fuel efficiency requirements to 54.5 mpg if all reductions were made through fuel economy improvements.

The improvements would save consumers an estimated average of up to $6,600 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a 2025 vehicle for a net lifetime savings of up to $4,400 after factoring in related increases in vehicle cost. Overall, the net benefit to society from this rule would total more than $420 billion over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in from 2017-25, the government said.

Get Your Efficiency Here!

“Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of executive actions the Obama Administration is taking to strengthen the economy and move the country forward because we can’t wait for Congressional Republicans to act,” according to the release.

But the National Automotive Dealers Association said that the new standard could end up hurting the environment.

So what will these new vehicles be like and what technologies will automakers use to reach these goals? Here are some predictions:

Feds to Stigmatize Gas Guzzlers with a D Grade?

New label might result in sticker shock - for makers.

by on Aug.30, 2010

1. This vehicle can travel about 26 miles on a gallon of gas for combined city and highway driving. 2. This vehicle uses 3.8 gallons of gasoline to travel 100 miles for combined city and highway driving. This is an energy efficiency rate called fuel consumption. Fuel consumption values, unlike MPG, relate directly to the amount of fuel used. 3. This bar depicts the range of combined city and highway fuel economy for all labeled vehicles. The pointer shows where this vehicle is within the range of all vehicles and other vehicles in the same class as the labeled vehicle. 4. www.fueleconomy.gov will continue to provide consumers with a source of in-depth information. The website allows consumers to personalize estimates based on their own driving habits (i.e. annual miles traveled, local fuel cost, etc.). 5. This vehicle can travel about 22 miles on a gallon of gas for city driving. 6. This vehicle can travel about 32 miles on a gallon of gas for highway driving. 7. $1,617 is the estimated annual fuel cost based on a given number of miles and fuel price, which are listed lower on the label (15,000 miles per year and $2.80 per gallon for this example). 8. This bar depicts the range of the combined city and highway carbon dioxide (CO2) tailpipe emission rate for all labeled vehicles. The pointer shows where this vehicle is within the range. 9. This bar depicts the emission rating for vehicle tailpipe emissions that contribute to local and regional air pollution, creating problems such as haze and smog. The pointer shows where this vehicle is within the range. 10. A QR Code can be used by many Smartphones to access a web page, allowing consumers at a dealership to compare vehicles and personalize estimates, based on their own driving habits and fuel costs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are jointly proposing the most radical changes to the fuel economy labels on the window of every new vehicle in dealer showrooms since the regulation began 30 years ago.

The stated goal of the new labels is to provide consumers with “simple, straightforward energy and environmental comparisons” across all types of vehicles, including electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

DOT and EPA said in a joint release this afternoon that they are looking to provide enhanced information on efficiency and environmental performance, including information about air pollutants, such as smog, that impact public health to consumers.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed under Republican President Bush specifically calls on EPA and DOT to rate available vehicles according to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming pollutants.

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Labels, Fair or Foul!

“New technologies such as battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are entering the American market in greater numbers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We need to provide consumers with labels that include fuel economy and environmental information so that buyers can make better informed decisions when purchasing new vehicles.”

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EPA Says Climate Change Real. Rejects Challenges

EPA's human health endangerment finding stands. Unknown, costly regulatory consequences for U.S. economy will ensue.

by on Jul.29, 2010

CO2 reduction is no walk in the park for auto makers or thus far unsuspecting consumers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today denied ten petitions challenging its 2009 determination that climate change is real and is occurring due to emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. This threatens human health and the environment.

The latest decision, which has wide-ranging and potentially huge negative consequences for the stumbling U.S. economy, confirms a previous EPA ruling that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten the public health and welfare of the American people.

Since virtually all vehicles for the near or longer term will burn fuels that cause large amounts of GHGs, more stringent fuel economy standards are inevitable. This will affect the types, sizes and cost of vehicles – in ways yet unknown — that you will be able to buy.

EPA’s Greenhouse Gas findings were initially issued in response to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. Prior to that, under Republican Administrations, the EPA did not take regulatory action to deal with the controversial problem.

Both the previous and today’s EPA position were not surprising given previous public statements of President Obama and his political appointees at EPA. (See EPA Finds Greenhouse Gases Threaten Health)

The petitions to reconsider EPA’s Endangerment Finding claimed that climate science cannot be trusted, and assert a conspiracy that invalidates the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

EPA has just said in a statement that after months of “serious consideration” of the petitions and of the state of climate change science, that it finds no evidence to support these claims.

In fact, EPA’s review shows that climate science is “credible, compelling, and growing stronger.”

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Follow Our Emissions!

“The endangerment finding is based on years of science from the U.S. and around the world.  These petitions — based as they are on selectively edited, out-of-context data and a manufactured controversy — provide no evidence to undermine our determination.  Excess greenhouse gases are a threat to our health and welfare,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

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DOT Pressures Law and Auto Makers over DD

Transportation Secretary LaHood calls a Second Distracted Driving Summit as Congress, industry ignore the deadly issue.

by on Jul.28, 2010

Particularly lethal is the widespread use of cell phones, now a global problem.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is prohibited by the U.S. Congress from promulgating regulations concerning distracted driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been using his “bully pulpit” to oppose the well financed auto, electronics and cell phone lobbies whose devices are enabling almost 6,000 deaths each year and more than 500,000 injuries. (See Smart Phones Add to Distracted Driving Epidemic)

Congress is showing no interest, to put it politely, on telling voters to stop using cell phones during an election year when all incumbents face ousting from angry voters.

Auto companies have their own conflicts of financial interest in this area, as they compete with each other to add more electronic devices to equipment lists. (See BMW to Offer Incoming E-Mail with Voice Output and DC Showdown over Distracted Driving Lobbyists)

Therefore there is no surprise in this bureau that LaHood has just announced that a second National Distracted Driving Summit will be held on 21 September 2010 in Washington, DC. More than 100 million people each day are now engaging in dangerous distracted driving behavior.

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First Fuel Economy Rules Ordered for Big Trucks

BP's "spill baby, spill" has the Administration pushing for much tougher national regulations for all classes of vehicles.

by on May.21, 2010

The President’s proposal would also order more gains in fuel efficiency for cars and lighter trucks.

President Obama today ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to institute the first regulation to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-2018.

He also called for national regulations on increasing fuel economy beyond the current ones, which stipulate that new light vehicles  must average at least 35.5 miles to a gallon of fuel by  2016 for combined city and highway driving.

The President’s proposal would order further, unspecified improvements in fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks made in 2017 and beyond. California still has the ability to impose its own regulations after that, and automakers are desperate to have a long-term national policy imposed. How this unfolds in Congress is uncertain, but the Administration called for action before the end of this year. ( See Administration Rolls Out New Fuel Economy Rules )

The Obama announcement comes as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to release the equivalent amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez every day or two. No end to what is called the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history  is in sight.

It is estimated that trucks currently use more than two million barrels of oil every day, and average 6.1 miles per gallon. Trucks also emit 20% of the greenhouse gases related to transportation.

The President said in a White House Rose Garden photo opportunity that preliminary estimates indicate the potential for significant fuel efficiency gains of as much as 25% and greenhouse gas emissions reductions for large tractor-trailers, which represent half of all GHG emissions from the sector.

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Distracted Driving Ticketing Campaigns Underway

Enforcement Campaigns in Hartford and Syracuse Fight DD.

by on Apr.08, 2010

NHTSA has not taken the simple steps to make cell phone use in vehicles by drivers illegal.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood today announced that the DOT is starting pilot programs in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York to test whether increased law enforcement efforts can get distracted drivers to put down their cell phones and focus on the road.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2008, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than a half million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver nationwide.

Almost 20% of all crashes that same year involved some type of distraction. Yet, the nation’s safety agency has not taken the simple steps to make cell phone use in automobiles by drivers illegal in all 50 states.

Many states have banned texting while driving – 21 of them so far. While some, including Connecticut and New York, have banned hand-held cell phone use.

The pilot enforcement programs, similar to previous drunk driving and safety belt use programs, are the first federally funded efforts in the country to focus on the effects of increased enforcement and public advertising on reducing distracted driving.

Drivers caught texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone will be pulled over and ticketed. The message is simple, “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other.”

“Law enforcement will be out on the roads in Syracuse, NY, and Hartford, CT, with one simple message, if a driver is caught with a cell phone in one hand, they’ll end up with a ticket in the other,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It’s time for drivers to act responsibly, put their hands on the wheel and focus on the road.”

(more…)

Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas Rules Finalized

The most aggressive U.S. standards ever are now in place.

by on Apr.01, 2010

The Administration has delivered a historic compromise in the face of what looked to be overwhelming odds against it.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today jointly established new federal rules that set the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions standards, and will increase the fuel economy of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States.

Starting with 2012 model year vehicles, the rules together require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions by about 5% every year.

NHTSA has established fuel economy standards that strengthen each year, reaching an estimated 34.1 mpg for the combined industry-wide fleet for model year 2016.

The rules, with a claimed cost of $52 billion and benefits of $240 billion, are compromised or the results of compromises in several areas, depending on your point of view. The vast majority of buyers will not see fuel economy anywhere near 34 mpg.

Because credits for air-conditioning improvements can be used to meet the EPA standards, but not the NHTSA standards, the EPA standards require that by the 2016 model-year, manufacturers must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. The EPA standard would be equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements.

Perhaps more worrisome from policy and health points of view are exemptions for the  gas guzzling, CO2 belching vehicles that the rich buy.

DOT and EPA received more than 130,000 public comments on the rules proposed in September 2009, and officials said there was “overwhelming support” for the new national policy. This means that automakers will be able to build a single, light-duty national fleet that satisfies all federal requirements, as well as the standards of California and other states.

The collaboration of federal agencies also allows for clearer rules for all automakers, instead of three standards (DOT, EPA, and a California standard), and was a clear victory for the Obama Administration that negotiated it after decades of gridlock and legal maneuvering.

The joint rules are also a sign of the decreasing political influence of automakers, which had long blocked fuel economy increases, and recognition of a growing green sentiment among voters.   (more…)

Is NHTSA Underfunded in DOT’s $79 Billion Budget?

NHTSA’s safety competence is under Congressional scrutiny.

by on Mar.10, 2010

NHTSA has 125 engineers working on auto safety. Only five are electrical engineers, and one other – one -- is a software engineer.

A House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection tomorrow will hold a hearing called, “NHTSA Oversight: The Road Ahead,” to examine the effectiveness of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in protecting you and your loved ones.

At stake, are how your tax dollars are spent, what they are spent on, and ultimately whether our safety agency is doing its job, as specified by the laws your representatives wrote.

This has the potential become an ugly, politically charged session, as Republicans try to defend their non-regulatory record, while the Democrats try to defend their special interest funding in its DOT budget. (It appears to independent me, though, that there is more than enough blame that can be spread on both sides of the aisle. And for some more background and disclosure, see Eisenstein’s and Zino’s editorial on the problems at NHTSA -  Click Here. )

If you look beyond the posturing of incumbent politicians running for re-election at a time when voters are clearly fed up, a core issue emerges – is NHTSA properly staffed and budgeted?

Here is a thought starter:

Motor vehicles are responsible for 95% of the nation’s transportation deaths but only 1% of the Transportation budget. Surely, this needs some discussion and debate.

Towards that end – at least in theory- the House committee will look at what has happened at the Department of Transportation (DOT), which governs NHTSA, since the infamous Ford-Firestone tire recall. That tragedy, with its resulting hundreds of deaths, led to the setting up of a warning system so similar deadly safety issues would not recur.

The mechanism to do  this, so-called TREAD Act,  was passed in 2000. In it Congress required NHTSA to institute  an Early Warning Reporting System – EWR, ultimately named ARTREMIS by NHTSA, among other safety reforms.

In addition, the TREAD Act authorized NHTSA to seek civil penalties of up to $5,000 per motor vehicle per day, with a maximum penalty of $15 million for all related violations, in the event that an auto manufacturer fails or refuses to comply with a NHTSA regulation.

The law also authorized criminal penalties for falsifying or withholding information with the intent to mislead the agency about a safety defect that has caused death or serious bodily injury.

In February 2010, NHTSA launched an inquiry to examine whether civil penalties would be appropriate in connection to the Toyota recall. The possiblity of criminal penalties remains open.

NHTSA’s Toyota Performance Lacking?

The House committee will concentrate on the safety agency’s performance in ongoing Toyota “sticking pedal” and unintended acceleration incidents. Here, more than 60 deaths and 38 serious injuries are now, alleged, to have occurred because of defects in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Moreover, the reported accidents and incidents are continuing. So there is an argument that NHTSA failed to perform its watchdog duties.

Critics contend that ten years of flat budgets or “stagnation” – most of them under Republican rule – have stripped the agency of its ability to function effectively and the Tread Act provisions have, as a result, been ignored in ways that led to the Toyota tragedy.

The agency sure looks to be understaffed: NHTSA currently has 125 engineers working on auto safety, but only five are electrical engineers, and one other is a software engineer– that is right, one. (Click Here.)

Since this half a dozen seems a shockingly small number – at least to me – to oversee the safety of motor vehicles where automotive electronics are now pervasive, an “allocation of resources” debate at DOT is emerging among safety advocates. The debate will be in full view tomorrow.

It seems clear to me that DOT needs to reorganize around things that matter to voters, not special interests who are benefiting from pork – more than 70% of NHTSA’s budget is dedicated to highway safety grants to states and localities. In other words, some “bringing home the bacon” things that politicians can talk about.

During the three Congressional hearings on Toyota, tough questions were raised about whether NHTSA has the resources and the technical capability to conduct in-depth investigations into new and complex systems in vehicles, and to evaluate manufacturer’s claims about the operations of the vehicles on sale.

NHTSA’s Budget

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Critical Thinking!

NHTSA’s vehicle safety work is contained within the budget for “Operations and Research.” (Click Here.)  NHTSA’s fiscal year 2011 budget request for this is $238.3 million- about $5 million lower than the FY 2010 request. Operations and research encompasses all vehicle safety work, and all of the NHTSA’s data collection and highway safety research. Much of the highway safety research is used to in the form of behavioral grants to states and localities, such as research into drunk driving, distracted driving, and seatbelt use.  And in spite of NHTSA’s assertion that 6,000 deaths were caused last year by distracted driving, nothing by way of regulation has been done to stop its number one cause – cell phone use. (more…)

NHTSA Has Five Electrical, One Software Engineer!

Short staffing at safety agency revealed for first time at U.S. Senate hearing on Toyota unintended acceleration deaths.

by on Mar.02, 2010

NHTSA’s actions – and inactions – in the years leading up to today are deeply troubling."

David Strickland, the newly appointed Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, admitted today that of the 125 engineers working on auto safety, only five are electrical engineers, and one other is a software engineer.

This was a key question that had been ducked in the two Congressional hearings last week on the Toyota safety matters.

Strickland answered the question posed once again to Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood who was testifying at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about NHTSA’s actions in Toyota unintended or uncontrolled acceleration deaths.

It was the first time that Strickland has answered a question in public about NHTSA , which is overseen by LaHood’s DOT, and it was the first time the real numbers emerged.

Since half a dozen seems a shockingly small number to oversee the safety of automotive electronics, an “allocation of resources ” debate at the huge federal agency is emerging among safety advocates.

Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV opened the hearing with withering criticism of Toyota and NHTSA.

“Now, it is clear that somewhere along the way public safety took a back seat and corporate profits drove the company’s decisions,” Rockefeller said.

Critics, including Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety, have been pointing out how easy it is for automakers to manipulate an understaffed NHTSA on recalls and service actions to improve profitability.

Critics also contend, with increasing evidence from recalls supporting the charges, that the auto industry is far behind in the use of safe design practices governing the use of electronics and electronic control circuits that are in common use in other industries.

This will be examined in greater detail when Toyota executives testify later this afternoon.

Rockefeller then turned to NHTSA’s role in the, alleged, 52 fatalities and 38 injuries  at Toyota from unintended acceleration matters.   (more…)