Lawmakers don’t want feds to lead on connected car tech

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The nation’s highway safety regulator plans to finalize a standardized system for vehicle-to-vehicle communication sometime in early 2016, an official said Wednesday, but some lawmakers are unimpressed, believing private industry could do the job better.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will release a public proposal for its dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) system, which will enable vehicles to communicate instantaneously with one another and with nearby wired infrastructure like crash barriers and traffic lights, early next year, said Nat Beuse, NHTSA associate administrator for vehicle safety research.

“What the department is doing is putting hardware behind that system,” Beuse told lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s subcommittees on IT and Transportation and Public Assets. “What’s been done to date has been a lot of hard work with a lot of smart people coming up with the design. But now we feel that we have to actually build this and operate it to see what are the vulnerabilities in it and do some large-scale testing.”

He said NHTSA thinks it is ready to deploy for security and privacy testing DSRC technology and the associated standards, which many believe could address more than 80 percent of crashes caused by humans and drive efficiency in cars.

But Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., balked at the idea, saying DOT has already spent $500 million in taxpayer money on this project without seeing much, even sliding “behind the advances in technology.”

“We spend a lot of money, and we don’t see a lot of progress,” said Mica, a persistent critic of federal government programs and an advocate of privatization.

IT Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd, R-Texas, brought up a similar concern, comparing the complexity of developing V2V communication technologies and standards with the unsuccessful, years-long struggle of the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense to make their electronic health records system interoperable.

“DOD and VA spent over half a billion dollars trying to get two electronic health records to work together, and after four years, they said, ‘This is really hard. We’re going to have to go separate,’” Hurd said.

With so much prior investment from the automobile industry, “Why are we even thinking about the federal government getting involved in doing this when a standard hasn’t developed out of the private sector?” he questioned. “The private sector is going to be better equipped to develop this type of technology, and the thing is probably going to work a little bit better.”

Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, said “there are complementary technologies being developed … that we can’t tell which is going to prove most effective” including the DSRC.

But Beuse said NHTSA hasn’t seen evidence of any competing developments, particularly in response to its 2014 advance notice of proposed rulemaking for the DSRC.

“If at some point in the future, or even in response to the proposal [next year], data comes in that shows there’s an alternative technology that can meet the safety potential,” NHTSA would consider that, he said.

Hurd objected, saying “the cat’s already out of the bag,” with companies like Tesla and General Motors developing these sorts of V2V communications. And he’d rather put his trust in the private sector to protect American drivers as well as their information stored in their cars, he said, acknowledging his concerns after the Office of Personnel Management was hacked, compromising the information of million of Americans, and “had the audacity to not even say ‘My bad.’”

Hurd finished, “I’m always concerned when we put too much faith in federal agencies to protect our information.”

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emerging technology, Government IT News, Innovation, Internet of Things, NHTSA, Tech, V2V
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