The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and all of the major automakers doing business in the United States have agreed on a Statement of Proactive Safety Principles that are intended to reaffirm the agency and industry’s commitment to work collaboratively to further improve vehicle safety. Described by NHTSA as “historic,” the Statement of Principles was announced during the Detroit Auto Show on January 15, 2016.

The preamble to the Statement of Principles contains a few interesting statistics: Fatalities as a share of miles travelled are down 80 percent since 1966 (when the Safety Act was passed), 94 percent of all crashes are attributable to driver choices and human error, most of the remaining 6 percent were the result of environmental factors and improper maintenance, and, significantly, less than 1 percent of crashes were caused solely by vehicle defects.

While these statistics demonstrate continued and substantial improvement in auto safety in the U.S., the Statement of Principles reflects a shared belief among NHTSA and manufacturers that there is even more room for improvement and that such improvement can be facilitated and accelerated through industry-wide collaboration. The Principles also reflect the industry’s acknowledgment that there are emerging issues – such as autonomous vehicle technology and cybersecurity – that demand industry cooperation.

The Principles cover four distinct areas:

  1. Efforts to work proactively to enhance safety and quality through (i) better communication among NHTSA, vehicle manufacturers, and suppliers on emerging safety issues and trends, (ii) sharing information about recall-related decision making processes, and (iii) consideration of the safety approaches currently used in the aviation industry.
  2. Industry cooperation in the area of data analytics with the objective of examining whether early warning reporting (EWR) data can be better analyzed using advanced analytical tools to identify potential safety trends.
  3. Industry collaboration to achieve higher recall completion rates by sharing best practices and engaging other stakeholders in the process.
  4. Industry collaboration to mitigate cyber threats that present unreasonable safety risks, by (among other things) developing best practices, engaging with cybersecurity researchers, and supporting the recently-announced Auto-ISAC (Industry Sharing and Analysis Center).

As the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Foxx stated in his press release, these Principles are “a new way of doing business for everybody.” It remains to be seen how these will be implemented in the real world and whether the collaboration will be effective as hoped, but the industry is certainly optimistic that they can move the vehicle safety needle even further through this new approach.