PhotoSafety regulators and 17 automakers have agreed to work together to identify safety problems earlier and improve the efficiency of recalls. The agreement came after meetings between federal officials and automakers at the Detroit Auto Show.

"We have finalized a historic agreement on a set of broad-ranging actions to help make our roads safer and help avoid the sort of safety crisis that generates the wrong kind of record-setting and headlines," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. "The commitments we make today will help catch safety defects before they explode into massive recalls. They will help improve the quality of data that automakers and NHTSA analyze to identify defects today, and they will find ways to generate better data in the future."

The agreement includes four principles aimed at creating a “proactive safety” culture, improving Early Warning Reporting data usage, “maximizing” recall completion rates, and tackling cybersecurity concerns.

Signatories to the agreement include the Transportation Department, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, American Honda, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.

“As we sat around the table here today, none of us could recall a moment quite like this, a moment in which the global automotive industry came together to determine how we can make vehicles that are safer than ever become even safer in the future,” Foxx said.

Compared to aviation

Foxx compared today's agreement to the aviation industry's safety practices, which emphasize collaboration, sharing of best practices, and non-judgmental reporting of safety shortcomings.

“Real safety is finding and fixing defects before someone gets hurt rather than punishing them after damage is done,” Foxx said.

Earlier, NHTSA announced that it would allow automakers to apply for exemptions from some rules as part of the development process for self-driving cars. It's billed as an attempt by government to ensure excessive regulation doesn't slow technological progress.

Some critics warned against giving automakers too much latitude. Joan Claybrooke, a former head of NHTSA, said the agreement was "a step in the wrong direction."

“With multiple instances of deadly defective cars, a historic number of recalls, the Volkswagen scandal and the report on Tuesday that Google’s robot cars had hundreds of near misses, now is not the time for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to abdicate its responsibility to enforce auto safety through binding safety rules,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of ConsumerWatchdog, a non-profit citizen organization.  

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