Whose fault is it anyway? Product liability and regulatory implications of recent NTSB recommendations on blood alcohol monitoring and smart speed assistance. – Rail, Road & Cycling

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Part Two of Two – Smart Speed ​​Assist

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all new vehicles be equipped with (a) passive alcohol monitoring and (b) adaptive Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). speed smart. The NTSB issued these two recommendations after investigating a horrific 2021 New Year’s Eve crash that killed nine people in Avenal, California. This accident happened when an intoxicated driver crossed the center line of a two-lane highway. At the time, he was going 88-98mph – 33-43mph over the posted speed limit of 55mph. He rammed a van head-on, tragically killing himself and a family of eight. The NTSB’s recommendations address two problematic aspects of this driver’s driving that represent significant societal harm in the United States: impaired driving and speeding.

Is this something new? And does that mean a potential move towards strict product liability by automakers for driver fault through illegal activity? This two-part article will answer these questions. In short, the answers are (a) sort of, but not really, and (b) not quite – these technologies are nascent, not state-of-the-art.


NTSB FARO scans vehicles involved in Avenal crash

The second half of this analysis of the recent NTSB recommendation will focus on Intelligent Speed ​​Assist (ISA). Drunk driving (the subject of the first half of this series) is never acceptable. But ISA interacts with driver behavior that is sometimes correct, sometimes even necessary: ​​speeding.

ISA systems detect speed limits, usually through camera recognition of speed limit signs. They then provide an alert to the driver or intervene to reduce the speed of the vehicle if the driver exceeds the speed limit.


Graphic of the European Transport Safety Council on ISA

Data collected in Europe suggests that speed-limiting or controlling ISA systems (as opposed to information or warning-only systems) are associated with greater reductions in speed. But there is limited empirical evidence in the form of studies in the United States on this issue. And IIHS research indicates that information/alert-based systems and speed limit/enforcement systems are facing substantial consumer resistance in the United States.

The European Commission recently approved a rule making ISA mandatory for all new vehicles from 2022. Under this rule, the ISA system must be automatically activated when the ignition switch is engaged, although it may be deactivated. Existing Euro NCAP test protocols (which are not mandatory) require that the speed control feature can be disabled at any time. As the EU rule and Euro NCAP standards implicitly acknowledge, there are certain situations in which excessive speed may be considered reasonable, for example, getting out of trouble in an emergency or maintaining a flow high speed traffic.

In short, current and proposed European ISA systems allow driver incapacitation and incapacitation. It is not clear that any existing or proposed system would use mandatory governor in passenger vehicles or completely prevent impaired (or non-impaired) drivers from accelerating, if they so choose. Technology, current and emerging, is no guarantee against speeding. And while ISA looks set to be made mandatory for new vehicles in Europe, it’s not something that’s been widely implemented in the US.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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