© 2018 by M.H. Kitchen


Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA)


Since the introduction of Electronic Throttle Controls (in the early 2000's), incidents involving SUA have risen.  I have studied and investigated more than 20 cases where fatalities or injuries due to SUA was alleged. Involved items include cruise control components, throttle bodies, sensors, pedal entrapment, floor mats, wiring, ECUs, software/firmware, lack of brake override features, and more.  

Rollaway Incidents & Smart Key Issues

Rollaway Incidents are on the rise.  This occurs when the driver believes the vehicle is OFF, or in PARK, but it continues running and moves unexpectedly. In some cases, they can also lead to SUA in disorienting the driver. These sometimes deadly incidents can be tied to the use of Smart Keys, ON/START buttons, Electronic Shifters, poor control ergonomics, lack of adequate educational and operational training, vehicle network communication faults, and more.  In other cases, Smart Key equipped vehicles may be inadvertently left running, thinking they were turned OFF. When this occurs in a closed garage, carbon monoxide poisoning risk is increased. 

Airbag Non-deployment

Airbags are life-saving technology in vehicles when they work.  But, sometimes, they do not deploy. This can occur in varying situations. For example,  if multiple vehicles and impacts are involved, such as on a busy freeway.  At times, some airbags deploy, but perhaps not all that may be needed.  There are many reasons why one or more airbags may not deploy.  It has been found that some ignition switches turn off during a crash, disabling the airbags.  In other cases, the airbag ECU may not have adequate reserve power if the battery is damaged, and the time between impacts is more than a few seconds. Other wiring, component, propellant, or system defects may also contribute to non-deployments.

Automotive Software/Firmware

Over the past several years, many of the largest and most serious automotive recalls were due to software or firmware issues. These include SUA, Rollaways, airbag issues, ABS problems, ECU problems, the diesel-gate emissions fraud/deception, and many more.

Those who actually write the code may reside anywhere around the globe at auto OEMs, vendors, consultants, or contractors, many of whom have minimal to no training in accepted practices, automotive specifications and standards, or foreign laws. This not only impacts safety, but cybersecurity, and access to private data within vehicles.   With millions of lines of software code now in vehicles and growing, I predict a rise in software related safety and security issues. 

In-Vehicle Network Security

Vehicles now commonly contain 10 or even many more in-vehicle digital networks that are critical to the safe operation of all systems within the vehicle.  However, as of today, most are unprotected against intrusion by hacking.  The first vehicles incorporating some basic security measures are just reaching the market this year (2018). And, vehicle networks can often have communications faults that impact the operation of critical vehicle systems.  I predict vehicle network faults and issues will also become increasingly problematic until secure practices such as Trust Anchors and Encryption are more widely deployed. That's why I currently serve on 4 SAE Committees developing cybersecurity standards and practices for vehicles and systems. 

Autonomous Vehicles

Level 5 Autonomous vehicles are expected to reach the roads in the early 2020's.  While they hold tremendous promise to improve safety, and provide transportation to the unserved, they are not without concerns.  

Mixing live drivers with fully autonomous vehicles is a massive challenge.  The shift to AV's is a paradigm shift as massive as when we went from horses and buggies to motorized vehicles.  MANY aspects of our lives will be impacted.  The technology appears to be moving more quickly than the laws to manage it at the moment.  There will undoubtedly be numerous issues that arise that impact public safety.  We have already experienced potentially avoidable fatalities, injuries, and accidents by allowing testing and development of such vehicles on public roads.  This entire subject will drive legal and technical issues in the coming months and years.