Takata Airbag Crisis Serves as "Warning," NHTSA Administrator Says| Edmunds

Takata Airbag Crisis Serves as "Warning," NHTSA Administrator Says

WASHINGTON — The ongoing Takata airbag crisis serves as a "warning when it comes to safety-critical technologies," a top federal safety official told the Automated Vehicles Symposium 2015 on Tuesday.

Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the Takata crisis illustrated that "good enough just won't cut it."

"When we design automated systems to reduce the risk of human error, we're taking the steering wheel out of the hands of the vehicle operator and putting it into the hands of all the engineers, designers and software coders who put those systems together," Rosekind said in a speech. "That is a serious responsibility."

NHTSA and Honda confirmed in June that an eighth fatality was attributable to a Takata airbag rupture. The defective airbags can deploy with too much force, spewing metal fragments at vehicle occupants.

"These defective inflators are taking lives instead of saving them," Rosekind said. "For those of us dedicated to life-saving innovation, it's a painful irony."

Rosekind called for a new approach to auto safety.

"Connected automation presents an enormous opportunity to approach safety in a different way," he said. "A more cooperative, proactive way."

Rosekind acknowledged that the auto business will "always be a competitive business."

"But safety isn't a competitive edge to tout in TV commercials," he said. "You never see a star rating on the side of an airliner when you board. Safety is a shared responsibility."

Consumers are on the cusp of an era when they may no longer need to accept "the risk of death or injury as the cost of mobility," Rosekind added.

But he fretted about the confusion that technology may cause to drivers who are unfamiliar with the latest innovations.

"We've got to develop human-machine interfaces that don't require drivers to develop astronaut-like skills of interpretation for all the beeps, tones, buzzes and warnings that come their way," Rosekind said.

Edmunds says: We're entering a revolutionary safety era with lots of potential — and pitfalls.

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