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A US expert panel says the public needs to be reassured that complex electronic systems in cars will work (Photo: Delphi)

The proliferation of in-car electronics raises new safety issues that need to be monitored and addressed, a report by a US expert panel said this week.

"The increasing role of electronic systems in automobiles creates new safety oversight challenges that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must address explicitly and proactively," the report by the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board, says.

The NHTSA is an agency of the US government tasked with improving road safety. The National Research Council (NRC) brings together groups 0f experts to improve government decision making and public policy. It is part of the US National Academy of Sciences, a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars.

The NRC was asked to investigate in-car IT following reports in 2009 and 2010 that Toyota models suffered from sudden, unintended acceleration problems. Studies by the NHTSA and NASA, the US space agency, subsequently found that the problems most likely occurred because drivers pressed the gas pedal by mistake. Toyota also corrected a potential problem that involved pedals being trapped by floormats.

Though the Research Council agreed with the NHTSA decision to close the Toyota investigation, it said action needs to be taken to assure car owners that automotive electronics are safe. "As these electronics systems become more complex, interconnected and capable, safety assurance demands will grow, as will the need to maintain public confidence in their safe performance," the NRC said.

It added that the NHTSA needs to acquire additional specialized technical expertise in complex electronic systems and suggested it create a standing advisory committee of experts.

The report endorsed an NHTSA proposal to equip all new cars with event data recorders (EDRs) and it supported the start of a broader research initiative aimed at ensuring that electronic systems and drivers interact safely.