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7-10-2018 - Autonomous Vehicle Symposium

Friday, July 13, 2018

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery By
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao
Autonomous Vehicle Symposium
San Francisco, CA
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Thank you, Brian [Wynne] for that introduction.  It is a pleasure to join you today at this important symposium about self-driving technology.

As you know so well, traditional modes of transportation that rely on a human driver underpin our country’s transportation systems.  But self-driving technology may change all that.  The transition may be gradual or it could be fast.  But one thing is certain—the autonomous revolution is coming.  As government regulators, it is our responsibility to understand it and help prepare for it.

My #1 priority is safety.  I believe that AV technology could save many lives and reduce injuries.  In addition, automated technology has the potential to increase access to transportation for traditionally underserved communities — especially the elderly and people with disabilities. 

Yet there are many challenges that must be addressed before this automated future can unfold.   

Many of the challenges are technical.  Some are legal. For example, how does one assess liability for automated vehicles?  But the deepest challenges are human.

How will automated vehicles interact with people, not only in cars, but on foot, bicycles or motorcycles?

And, this may be the biggest challenge of all: Will the public accept, trust, and adopt AV systems?

The public has already adopted automation in the form of driver assistance technology.  Many new cars have cruise control, ABS brakes, collision avoidance, and lane departure warnings. 

But as you know so well, public concern about the safety, security and privacy of fully automated vehicles runs deep.

After a widely publicized collision in which an automated car struck and killed a woman walking her bike in Tempe, Arizona, public concern over AV technology spiked. Prior to that incident, pollsters reported that a majority of Americans are afraid to ride in self-driving cars.  Afterwards, polls showed 80 percent support for Federal and state government regulation of autonomous vehicles for safety reasons.  The public expects the public and private sectors to lead by working together to safely develop, test and integrate this new technology into our existing transportation systems. 

So, this afternoon, let me share with you six principles that govern the Department of Transportation’s approach to AV technology.

First, as I have already mentioned, safety is my number one priority.

Second, the Department’s approach will be tech-neutral, not top-down command and control.  We will not pick winners and losers among the developers of these technologies.

Third, the Department’s preference is for regulations that are non-prescriptive, performance-based, and seek to enhance safety whenever possible.  These future regulations will recognize the possibility that a vehicle could be self-driving.

Fourth, the Department will work with States and localities to avoid a patchwork of rules that could inhibit innovation and make it difficult for AVs to cross state lines.

Fifth, the Department will provide stakeholders with guidance, best practices, pilot programs and other assistance to facilitate the safe integration of AV systems into the transportation system.

And Sixth, the Department recognizes that autonomous vehicles will have to operate side-by-side with traditional vehicles, in both urban and rural areas.   

One of the first things I did as Secretary of Transportation was to task NHTSA with developing new guidelines that conform to these principles. On September 12, 2017, I announced ADS 2.0: A Vision for Safety – new guidance for the safe testing and integration of autonomous vehicles.  To keep pace with innovation, work continues on a multi-modal version, AV 3.0, which is slated to be released later this summer.

To gather diverse viewpoints, an AV policy listening summit was held at DOT headquarters on March 1, 2018.  Views were presented on accessibility, public safety, insurance and liability, jobs, cyber security, and public outreach.

There was consensus that the Department needs to take a lead role in facilitating communication with stakeholders and working with the states to develop consistent policies.

Let me share some of the other feedback from that event:

There is concern about how AVs will interact with First Responders.  Can AVs adapt to emergency events?  Experts believe AVs can self-report crashes and provide data that could improve emergency response efforts.

Though AV technology could improve mobility for underserved communities, different disabilities require different accommodations.  DOT can help by conducting research into accessibility needs, and by providing clear guidance on accessibility requirements.

Consumer groups emphasized that stakeholders must be open and plain-spoken about the benefits and challenges of this new technology.

Experts in legal issues widely agreed that existing liability and insurance frameworks are adaptable to an AV world.  But there will be a need to collect and analyze data to support development of new insurance policies and products. They differed on what data should be collected from AV vehicles, what it would be used for, and who should get access to it. 

There were concerns about workforce issues.  AV technology can open up more jobs for persons with disabilities but could render other jobs obsolete.  As a former Secretary of Labor, this concerns me.  New technologies create jobs.  But the transition period can be difficult for dislocated workers.  This needs to be addressed. 

Cybersecurity is a major concern.  The hacking of AV software could result in privacy violations, theft, or even the acquisition of a vehicle by terrorists.  Some recommend that DOT develop a cybersecurity concept of operations, and lead information sharing among stakeholders. 

DOT’s AV Policy Listening Summit provided key insights, and demonstrated the value of continuing engagement between the Department and stakeholders.   Just today we posted the full report from the summit and you can find it at

Some believe it is only a matter of time before AV technology completely replaces drivers.  Others say that despite improvements in technology and the increase in ride-sharing, many Americans will still want to drive their own vehicles.  So, it is likely that conventional cars will be on America’s roads for a long time, and autonomous vehicles will have to coexist with them.  This scenario, however, is the basis for much of the public’s unease. 

So, let me challenge you to step up, and educate the public about this new technology.  Without public acceptance automated technology will never reach its full potential.  So, we need to work together to get it right.

The Department’s goal is to encourage the safe deployment and integration of AV technology, while maintaining maximum individual choice and enhanced safety.

I look forward to working together with you on these goals. 

Thank you.

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