Matthews: IT makes driving safer

The recent recall of hundreds of thousands of Ford Motor Co. automobiles illustrates how information technology helps the Transportation Department improve vehicle safety, the agency's chief information officer said today.

Ford recalled more than 358,000 Focus cars because the back passenger doors do not latch properly. That information was collected and made publicly available through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Artemis database. "Artemis became an IT program almost overnight" because it is secure, state-of-the-art, portable and evaluated quarterly as part of the overall e-government initiative, said Daniel Matthews, Transportation's CIO, speaking this morning at the Government Technology Performance Summit.

At the heart of Artemis is a reporting program, Matthews said. The database compiles complaints, recalls and defect investigations. Artemis uses several sources, including a consumer hot line, safety investigators and public Web sites. The public can access the information through individual requests or using the Artemis site. According to an August 2004 evaluation carried out under the aegis of the President's Management Agenda, the site has gotten been more than 66 million hits since 2003, along with more than 1.4 million records reported.

This information is available 72 hours after receipt by NHTSA via the Internet at www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov.

Problems with Ford vehicles led to the creation of the database in the first place. The company's widely reported problems with vehicles using Firestone tires in 2000 led Congress to pass the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act. TREAD's implementation fell to the highway safety agency, which then developed Artemis.

Artemis will cost $27.9 million over 20 years, Matthews said. Although it is an IT program, government technology should be in the background, rather than drawing attention to itself, he said.

"It's not about the technology," Matthews said. "It's about the outcome. ... It's about the people."

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