Weekly Brief: U.S. Senators drive legislation for automotive cyber security

In this week’s Brief: BMW, OnStar, U.S. Senator Ed Markey, NHTSA, FTC, Volvo, Google, Audi, Chicago Auto Show, Acura, Apple, Toyota, Oculus, Goodyear and Ford.

If you’ve tuned out of the car cybersecurity drama over the past month, here’s a recap:

Carmakers have maintained that despite increasingly networked vehicles, with a growing number of wireless access points, their cars are safe against the threat of hackers.

Hackers from research firms around the globe have proven this false time and again, in the past two weeks alone hacking into BMW’s ConnectedDrive and GM’s OnStar.

Mainstream media outlets have run with the story, politicians are fired up about it, and the general consensus is that something needs to be done.

Enter U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who proposed legislation last week that would create federal performance standards that all U.S. carmakers and international carmakers selling in the U.S. would have to abide by.

On the security front, the legislation would mandate that carmakers lock down all wireless access points and be able to respond in real-time were a car hacking to transpire. As for privacy, carmakers would have to divulge whenever data collection is going on and permit drivers to opt out if they choose. Using personal driving info for advertising or marketing would also become taboo.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would act as enforcers for the law.

"We need the electronic equivalent of seat belts and airbags to keep drivers and their information safe," said Senator Markey, who proposed the legislation with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

“Connected cars represent tremendous social and economic promise, but in the rush to roll out the next big thing automakers have left the doors unlocked to would-be cybercriminals,” said Senator Blumenthal.


In other news, Volvo announced that it will turn its hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, into a test ground for self-driving cars in 2017. Specifically, 100 XC90 crossovers will be decked out with sensors, radars, and cameras on the exterior and Volvo’s Drive Me driving system under the hood. Regular consumers will act as the pilots instead of company engineers, and their cars will be able to self-drive when no other cars, pedestrians or bikers are around. Volvo joins a busy field on the autonomous driving front — Google is already in pilot mode, and Audi is hot on its heels — so it will be interesting to see if one brand can win first-to-market advantage or if the self-driving craze gets distributed evenly across brands.

At the Chicago Auto Show, Acura debuted its sport-utility Acura RDX with a suite of advanced driver assistance features. Dubbed AcuraWatch, the camera/radar technology can sense the roadway and objects within it, including other vehicles and pedestrians. It encompasses a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, road departure mitigation and blind spot information. It also includes a rear cross traffic monitor and Apple Siri voice recognition.  


Also in Chicago, Toyota and Oculus continued their auto show tour of their TeenDrive365 simulator, which combines a stationary Toyota with an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to teach drivers (teens in particular) the dangers of distracted driving. During the simulation, drivers are challenged to drive safely using the car’s steering wheel and pedals, while navigating a series of common distractions, including traffic noises, the radio, text messages and virtual friends who occupy the passenger and back seats. The goal is to instill a visceral understanding of the dangers of distracted driving and build competency for how to navigate the various stimulants that contribute to it.

Speaking of teen driving, nearly half of all parents of novice drivers in the EU (46%) support black box technology that would allow them to monitor their child's speed and driving behavior, according to new findings from tire manufacturer Goodyear. In the EU, the strongest support is in Italy (73%), Poland (72%) and Romania (72%). Across Europe, the level of backing for black box technology is similar among driving instructors, 47% of whom endorse the technology. The new findings derived from a Goodyear Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) survey of more than 6800 parents of novice drivers from 19 countries. Watch a roundtable of experts discussing the findings here.

Finally, Ford introduced a technology that helps cars predict potential vehicle spinouts and intervenes earlier than previous systems to help prevent the driver from losing control of the car. Called “enhanced transitional stability,” the technology combines real-time data from sensors throughout the car to anticipate a potential spin by 100 to 200 milliseconds. The system is standard on the new 2015 Ford Focus.


The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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