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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Safe Reliability of Electronic Control Systems

Motor vehicle manufacturers are introducing increasingly complex electronics technologies that can aid safe driving and mitigate hazardous driving behaviors. Volpe is analyzing trends in the causes of electronic control system failures, and helping advance standards and guidelines to strengthen the reliability of electronic systems.

The Challenge

As automotive electronics become increasingly complex and interdependent, the possibility of interactions between systems that could lead to unintended consequences is a serious concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency focused on motor vehicle and highway safety, has a need to develop and disseminate standards to ensure the safe and reliable performance of electronic systems.

The Solution

Volpe’s research involves the following:

  • Building scientific foundations for risk assessment and failure analysis of electronic control systems
  • Identifying historical trends and future concerns
  • Assessing existing industry and government safety standards
  • Assessing innovative vehicle diagnostics and prognostics capabilities
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of driver warning mechanisms for the safe operation of automotive electronic control systems

Volpe’s capabilities include the following:

  • System safety analysis, including the use of specialized software tools
  • Advanced hazard analysis for complex systems; current efforts involve battery control systems for hybrid-electric and electric vehicles and electronic throttle control systems
  • Causal factors identification and trend analysis for automotive electronic control system failures
  • Assessment of safety standards for electronic control systems

The Impact

Volpe documented the leading electronic vehicle control system malfunctions in passenger motor vehicles manufactured from 2002 to 2013. This provided essential information to enable NHTSA to examine the need for safety standards for electronic systems under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21).

Volpe also contributed to the development and implementation of standards and guidelines for the safety of automotive electronic control systems.

Examples of automotive electronic control systems


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Last updated: Thursday, April 1, 2021