Motor Vehicle Safety:

Key Issues Confronting the National Advanced Driving Simulator

RCED-92-195: Published: Aug 18, 1992. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Transportation's (DOT) plans to develop a National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS), focusing on: (1) how NADS will benefit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) and the Federal Highway Administration's activities; (2) the projected capabilities of NADS compared with existing simulator capabilities; and (3) the estimated cost to develop NADS and the amount of non-DOT financial commitments.

GAO found that: (1) although DOT believes that NADS research will benefit its programs, it cannot quantify NADS benefits in such terms as lives saved, dollars saved, and accidents avoided, since those benefits will accrue from new safety devices and designs; (2) NADS will have a more advanced visual system and a larger and more advanced motion system and will be able to carry out more research than existing driving simulators can; (3) simulation experts believe that the state of the art in simulation is such that there should be no technical risk associated with achieving the physical specifications for NADS; (4) after the design phase, NHTSA will be in a better position to judge whether there are technical risks and whether those risks can be overcome; (5) the $32-million estimate to develop NADS is uncertain since it has not been adjusted to reflect any future cost changes, and is based on a conceptual design that does not identify the specific equipment needed for NADS; (6) as of July 1992, NHTSA was not sure whether it would obtain financial commitments from non-DOT sources for one-third of the NADS cost before its planned design contract date; and (7) as of July 1992, NHTSA and the University of Iowa had not agreed on a plan for allocating NADS operating time among potential users, but the rights of DOT to use NADS would be covered in a cooperative agreement between NHTSA and the University.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The estimated cost for NADS is $53.05 million. The one-third cost sharing amount is $17.70 million, of which $15.9 million has been arranged for, leaving a shortfall of $1.8 million. DOT's FY 1998 budget request contains amounts for FY 1998-99 to cover the NADS construction costs (including the cost increases) without additional outside cost sharing. According to DOT, House and Senate appropriations subcommittees have been informed of this.

    Matter: In view of the uncertainties concerning the estimated cost to develop NADS, NADS capability to perform as conceptualized, and NHTSA success in obtaining the one-third financial commitment from non-DOT sources, Congress may wish to either defer further funding for NADS until after the design phase, when these uncertainties should be answered, or approve the $9.45 million requested for fiscal year (FY) 1993 but restrict its expenditure until NHTSA reports on the resolution of the uncertainties.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The design phase has been completed, and the construction contract was awarded to TRW on February 23, 1996. Subsequent negotiations arrived at a total development cost of $49.3 million. NHTSA briefed key members of the House and Senate staff regarding the agreed-upon cost, that NADS would perform as originally planned, and the level to which non-DOT cost sharing had been achieved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should report to Congress, after the design phase, on the three uncertainties regarding the estimated cost to develop NADS, NADS capability to perform as conceptualized, and NHTSA success in obtaining the one-third financial commitment from non-DOT sources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The University of Iowa, together with the state of Iowa, has pledged the entire $11 million in NADS cost sharing. This pledge was certified by GAO in AIMD/RCED-95-211, dated June 1995. If increased cost sharing is necessary, the awardee and the subcontractors have pledged additional support.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require NHTSA to follow through with its plans for meeting the goal of obtaining the one-third financial commitment from non-DOT sources. If NHTSA should fail to attain the one-third goal, the Secretary should discuss alternative funding approaches with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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