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Appendix 6: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Research & Development Technology Transfer Plan FY 2013

Background

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce traffic related health care and other economic costs.  The agency develops, promotes, and implements effective educational, engineering, and enforcement programs directed toward ending preventable tragedies and reducing safety related economic costs associated with vehicle use and highway travel. 

Through the combined efforts of NHTSA, Congress, states, local law enforcement, public safety groups and industry, the nation has made major strides in reducing fatalities and injuries in motor vehicle crashes.  Safety belt use has reached a record high national average of 80 percent.  The fatality rate, per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, is declining.  Motor vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers are developing advanced safety technologies and deploying them into the vehicle fleet.  NHTSA’s consumer information program provides valuable safety information that shoppers can use when deciding which vehicles to buy.

In addition to these programs, NHTSA issues and enforces Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).  These standards establish performance criteria that every new motor vehicle sold in the United States must meet.  They range from those focused on crash avoidance features (such as brakes and lighting) to ensuring vehicle crashworthiness through testing occupant restraint systems (safety belts and airbags) and to protecting against fires (fuel integrity).  These standards set forward test procedures and specific performance requirements.  Vehicle manufacturers are required to certify that each new vehicle sold meets all of the standards applicable to it.  NHTSA purchases vehicles on the open market and tests them.  Should a vehicle fail any aspect of the standard, the manufacturer is required to recall the vehicle and fix the problem.

Priority Programs and Projects:  As stated in the NHTSA’s  Vehicle Safety and Fuel Economy Rulemaking and Research Priority Plan 2011-2013, vehicle safety programs and projects that are in the following three categories: (1) large safety benefits; (2) vulnerable populations; and (3) high-occupancy vehicles are categories that the agency is putting a significant emphasis on.   Programs and projects that are in Category 1, large benefits, have the potential for large safety benefits based upon factors such as: the size of the target population, the effectiveness of countermeasures and their potential to save lives and prevent injuries, the availability and practicability of these countermeasures, and the potential that countermeasures could be developed in the future that could be reasonably effective against a large target population.

Programs and projects in Category 2, vulnerable populations, affect children, older people, the vision-impaired or other populations that are considered vulnerable.  Category 3, high-occupancy vehicles, involves buses or motor coaches and other high-occupancy vehicles.  

Thus, research results in these three categories and that also have a significant technology aspect to them, will likely be where the most opportunities lie for technology transfer.  

Summary of NHTSA Technology Transfer goals

In brief, NHTSA’s goals for technology transfer are to:

  1. IMPROVE HIGHWAY SAFETY – Reduce fatalities and motor vehicle crashes.
  2. UNDERSTAND TECHNOLOGY – Improve understanding of emerging motor vehicle safety technologies in order to improve the effectiveness of research activities.  
  3. PROMOTE KNOWLEDGE OF VEHICLE SAFETY TECHNOLOGY– Generate and promote knowledge of vehicle safety technologies for use by high-growth businesses.

Technology Transfer

The Presidential memorandum of October 28, 2011 directed federal agencies to improve the results of their technology transfer and commercialization activities.  NHTSA has not engaged in the ‘Commercialization of Federal Research in Support of High-Growth Business’ due to the inherent ethical conflicts of its regulatory role with such potential high-growth businesses.  Consequently, NHTSA does not staff a Technology Transfer Office as do other federal agencies and their laboratories concerned with technology development, and it does not typically engage in patent license agreements, royalties, inventions, material transfer agreement (MTA’s), proprietary license agreement (PLA’s), etc.

In this consideration, the agency also believes that there are reasonable opportunities to facilitate technology transfer, and that there are reasonable first steps in response to the Presidential memorandum involving the 1) exploration of transfer goals, 2) metrics, 3) evaluation public access streamlining, 4) tracking, 5) grant review, 6) SBIR,  and 7) partnerships engagement.  The goal of these activities is to:

"Increase the number of effective technology transfer and commercialization activities in partnership with non-federal entities, including private firms, research organizations, and non-profit entities."

Program Milestones

Milestone - Develop an improved web-based approach to disseminate transportation research findings to stakeholders.
Method – Evaluate current agency research content on agency’s website and identify ways to improve content in 2013.   
Timeline – Each year, evaluate the approach to web-based content in terms of how often the public accesses the site and consider methods to improve public access and usage rates to further enhance dissemination of research findings.