The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, H.R. 3684 (117), was signed into law by President Biden on November 15, 2021. In addition to $550 billion in funding for improvements to roads and bridges and broadband expansion, the bill also contains a number of provisions requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and, by delegation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to mandate certain safety features for new passenger cars manufactured for sale and distribution in the United States.
The legislation will launch a significant wave of new NHTSA notice and comment rulemaking activities over the next several years that will define the details of how these requirements will impact vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. Some of these provisions include:
- Crash Avoidance Technology. The bill requires all newly manufactured passenger cars to include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking (AEB), and lane-keeping assistance technology. The bill allows DOT to determine the appropriate effective date and any phase-in timelines for these requirements. (Sec. 24208).
- Refreshing NCAP. The bill requires DOT to update the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) by establishing (1) performance test criteria for crash-avoidance technology, (2) criteria for rating vehicles on pedestrian, cyclist, and other vulnerable road user safety, and (3) a roadmap for future updates to the NCAP, including meetings and feedback from a diversity of stakeholders interested in vehicle safety. DOT is required to finalize these updates within one year of the law’s enactment. (Sec. 24213).
- Safety Standard Updates. The bill requires the DOT to consider updates to the hood and bumper standards, including the incorporation of advanced crash-avoidance technology and potential harmonization with global standards. (Sec. 24214). The bill also requires DOT to update standards for vehicle headlights by allowing the use of adaptive headlamp systems that can adjust beam angles to avoid the eyes of oncoming drivers, and to mandate automatic shutoff systems for vehicles with keyless ignition systems to reduce incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning. (Sec. 24212, 24205, respectively). The bill requires that these changes to be made within two years of the law’s enactment.
- Drunk Driving Prevention Technology. The bill requires DOT to mandate advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology as standard equipment in all new passenger cars. This technology will passively monitor a driver’s performance and measure blood alcohol levels, and will limit the ability of a driver to operate the vehicle if any signs of impairment are detected. DOT is required to finalize the rule mandating this equipment within three years of the law’s enactment, and manufacturers will be required to comply with the requirement two and three years after the rule is finalized. (Sec. 24220).
- Hot Car Measures. The bill requires DOT to issue a rule requiring all new passenger cars under 10,000 pounds to incorporate an alert system reminding drivers to check the rear seats of their vehicles after engine cut off to ensure children are not left in vehicles unattended. The bill requires that this rule be finalized within two years of the law’s enactment. (Sec. 24222).
- Research Funding. The bill provides funding for research and mandates studies on a number of topics, including connected vehicles, diversity and positioning of crash test dummies, accessibility of child safety belts for low-income families, cameras and other safety systems on school buses, and the effectiveness of driver disengagement monitoring systems. (See Sec. 24219, 24221, 24102, 24110, 24209, respectively).
While many vehicles on the road today already incorporate some of the technologies highlighted above—including forward collision warning, AEB, and rear seat reminders—others such as the drunk driving prevention technology are likely to require additional innovation on the part of manufacturers. In addition, updates to the NCAP standards and rating system will impact where manufacturers choose to invest R&D resources in the coming years.