Transportation bill includes recall tech upgrades

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Congress has reached agreement on a five-year, $280 billion bill to support upkeep and replacement of aging U.S. transportation infrastructure, including highways and bridges. Final votes on the package are expected by Dec. 5.

The conference report on the legislation also includes measures that would mandate a review of the IT needs of the Transportation Department's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA); establish an improved, searchable online database of vehicle recall information; require exploration of a database for tire recalls; and facilitate voluntary information sharing among critical infrastructure providers.

Within 18 months of the bill's passage, the Government Accountability Office must report on IT and data collection at FMCSA, which is responsible for keeping track of unsafe trucks, removing high-risk carriers from the nation's highways and enforcing rules for hazardous materials transportation on highways, among other duties.

The study must examine the agency's existing IT, data collection, processing systems, data correction procedures, and data management systems and programs with the goal of improving effectiveness and system consolidation.

Within two years, DOT should have improved its ability to disseminate information on motor vehicle safety recalls. The agency has come under fire for not making it easier for consumers to track vehicles that manufacturers have recalled for safety reasons. Therefore, the bill mandates improvements in the organization, availability and functionality of the agency's website and provides grants to states to start email-based recall notification programs.

The bill also instructs DOT to conduct a study on the feasibility of requiring tire manufacturers to put electronic identification in every tire they make for U.S. markets. In late October, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a national computerized system to keep track of automobile tires with the goal of preventing tens of thousands of crashes. The system would capture, store and upload tire registration information at the point of sale to reduce transcription errors and encourage more dealers to register tires.

NTSB officials said current tire registration methods are based on paperwork or dealers' outdated electronic systems. The process is chaotic and cannot accurately gather even basic data, such as tire purchasers' names. According to NTSB, there are about 33,000 tire-related crashes of passenger vehicles every year. In 2013, 539 people died in such crashes.

The legislation would require manufacturers to electronically encode ID numbers into tires and include information on the tires' characteristics and construction. Under current federal law, such numbers must be branded on sidewalls of tires sold in the U.S.

A section of the bill also seeks to facilitate the voluntary sharing of information between power companies and the federal government during natural or man-made emergencies. The bill would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to encourage information sharing among owners, operators and users of the power system, as well as federal, state, local and tribal authorities.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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