Oct 18, 2019

The shared lessons of the Boeing and GM disasters

Sensors and associated software on the nose of a Boeing 737 Max jet are at the center of a safety investigation. Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Deadly safety crises at Boeing this year and at GM in 2014 share the same, avoidable, root causes — lax government oversight and poor communication.

Driving the news: A multiagency task force this week concluded that "a breakdown in the nation's regulatory system and poor communication from Boeing compromised the safety of the 737 MAX jet before it crashed twice in five months and killed 346 people," the New York Times reports.

  • Boeing did not adequately explain to federal regulators how a crucial new automated software system worked, the report found.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration delegated responsibility for certifying much about the plane's safety to Boeing's own employees, a practice now under scrutiny by Congress, the Times notes.

Flashback: In 2014, GM was gripped by its own safety crisis in which faulty ignition switches were tied to at least 124 vehicle deaths and led to the recall of 30 million GM cars worldwide.

  • An internal investigation concluded that reporting breakdowns and cultural barriers inside GM were to blame.
  • A congressional report also criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for ignoring warning signs that could have resulted in a safety recall years earlier.
  • NHTSA officials blamed GM for not conveying critical information about an engineering change they made to the switches.

What's happening: Lawmakers can't seem to pass self-driving car legislation and the U.S. Department of Transportation has adopted a hands-off approach to autonomous vehicle development, for fear of stifling innovation.

The bottom line: The AV industry is self-regulated and without clear safety standards for self-driving cars, we're at risk of repeating the same mistakes again.

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