US House committee aims to make car hacking illegal

The proposed bill would make vehicle hacking illegal, with civil penalties up to $100,000, among many other changes.

2003 Saturn Ion
General Motors' ignition-switch fiasco forced OEMs and the government to rethink how recalls are dealt with.General Motors

If the House Energy and Commerce Committee has its way, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will spearhead a series of reforms changing how the government deals with recalls, hackers and data collection, as well as compliance with current and future fuel-economy regulations.

The committee's draft proposal (PDF), released Wednesday, will drag both automakers and regulators into the 21st century, thanks largely to a number of high-profile debacles in the last few years, including GM's ignition-switch recall and Jeep's Cherokee hacking.

The bill would make it illegal to hack a vehicle, with civil penalties up to $100,000 for such an offense. An NHTSA-created cybersecurity advisory council comprising both federal regulators and automaker representatives would develop a best-practices method to address current and future concerns, including how to deal with vehicle data collection.

The proposed law would require automakers to e-mail vehicle owners about recalls, instead of relying on the United States Postal Service alone. It would also create a program where states inform drivers of open vehicle recalls during annual registration renewals. The law would also require suppliers to provide the US government with specific part numbers when those components are marked as defective.

NHTSA will also be in charge of the daunting task of making sure more Americans complete their recalls. According to NHTSA's own data, 25 percent of vehicles never get fixed, and as a model gets older, that number rises.

This draft also creates a credit system wherein automakers earn a pass on fuel-economy and greenhouse-gas-emissions regulations, so long as the cars they sell come equipped with three of nine approved active and passive safety systems, including forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The idea behind the credit system is that fewer accidents reduce congestion, thereby reducing fuel consumption in a different way.

If the draft makes it all the way to the bicameral legislature, expect plenty of rabble-rousing over how this will all be funded. The money will have to come from somewhere, though lack of funding is why the EPA has automakers testing their own vehicles.

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