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Building a Safer Future - National Association of Auto Dealers

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
The Honorable Elaine L. Chao
Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
National Association of Auto Dealers
 Washington, DC
Wednesday, Sept 13, 2017

Thank you for that warm introduction, Rhett [Ricart - NADA Regulatory Affairs Committee Chairman].  Congratulations on your 100th anniversary!  That is an important milestone! Before we begin, let me give a shout out to some fellow Kentuckians who are here:  Danny Renshaw, who is on the NADA board of directors; Jack Kain, Duke Brubaker, Jim Reynolds, Shane Collins, Wadette Bradford; and Gay Williams, head of the Kentucky Auto Dealers Association.  On behalf of Mitch, the Senate Majority Leader, and myself, welcome to Washington!

Today, I’m pleased to be here to share some thoughts about safety, innovation and regulatory reform.  As a critical link between manufacturers and the public, you have unique insight into the impact these trends have on consumers and consumer choice.

As you know so well, our country is on the verge of one of the most exciting and important innovations in transportation history—the development of Automated Driving Systems (ADS), commonly referred to as automated or self-driving vehicles. 

The future of this new technology is full of promise.  It’s a future where vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes.  It’s a future where the time spent commuting is dramatically reduced.  And where millions more-- including the elderly and people with disabilities -- gain access to the freedom of the open road.  And, especially important, it’s a future where highway fatalities and injuries are significantly reduced. 

That’s so important because after several years of declining highway fatalities, the trend has reversed.   In the first nine months of 2016, highway fatalities in the United States increased by eight percent over the previous year.  In 2015-- the last year for which we have complete data-- 35,092 people lost their lives on the highways. That’s an increase of more than 7 percent over the previous year.

The statistics tell the story:

  • More than 10,000 fatalities involved drinking and driving; 
  • Passengers who refused to wear seat belts accounted for 10,000 fatalities;
  • Another 2,000 fatalities involved motorcyclists who refused to wear helmets; 
  • 3,000 crashes involved distracted drivers; and,
  • Speeding was a key factor in an additional 10,000 highway fatalities.

The Department continues to educate the driving public, and to work with state and local partners to develop innovative strategies that can save lives.  But, as research shows, 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error.  So Autonomous Vehicle Systems are the next frontier in safety. They are the next step in significantly reducing human error and saving tens of thousands of lives.

As you know so well, driver-assist technologies are already making their way into the market.  Vehicles today offer automated braking, self- parking, advanced cruise control and other crash avoidance technologies.  Tomorrow’s vehicles will build on these features.  With each model year, manufacturers will leverage computing power, sensors and cameras to allow vehicles to “see” the world around them more precisely, and navigate it more safely.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has an important role to play in building and shaping this future.  One of the first actions I took as Secretary was to direct NHTSA to develop a regulatory framework that encourages the safe development, testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology.

That’s why just yesterday, the Department released A Vision for Safety: 2.0 to promote improvements in safety, mobility, and productivity through automated driving systems (ADS).

A Vision for Safety replaces the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy released in 2016.  It clarifies and incorporates many of the concerns we heard from stakeholders and end users, and is in alignment with legislation currently pending in Congress.  It offers a path forward for the safe deployment of automated vehicles by:

  • encouraging new entrants and ideas that deliver safer vehicles;
  • making Department processes more nimble by creating a flexible framework to help match the pace of private sector innovation;
  • supporting industry innovation and encouraging open communication with the public and with stakeholders; and,
  • identifying Best Practices from around the country and offering technical assistance to state legislatures, which are moving quickly on this issue.

Let me note this guidance is not a static document.  As the Department gathers new information and comments from stakeholders, we will continue to refine and update this guidance. NHTSA will also continue to exercise its defect, recall and enforcement authority, where appropriate.

As the title of this guidance suggests, safety is a primary concern of the Department’s automated vehicle policy. But the benefits of automated vehicle systems extend beyond safety.

Automated technology may also give traditionally underserved communities—especially older Americans and people with disabilities—greater access to transportation choices, dramatically improving their quality of life.

The potential for progress is enormous. That’s why it’s critical to expand public knowledge of the benefits of this technology, and to address legitimate consumer concerns about safety, privacy and cybersecurity. And as you may know, a recent Triple A survey found that 78 percent of US drivers reported feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving vehicle. Only 19 percent said they would trust the vehicle, and 4 percent said they were unsure.  Ultimately, consumers will decide the future of automated technology, including when and how quickly it arrives.

As automobile dealers, you have your fingers on the pulse of consumer choice and how quickly new technology is accepted. So you have a role to play in helping the Department improve its information about how consumers are reacting to these advanced technologies, as well as the rate at which they are being adopted.

As we move forward into this new era, it’s also important to recognize that regulatory decisions have costs as well as benefits.  Automobiles are the transport of choice for many hard-working, middle-class families.  So it’s important that the cost of newer, safer cars remain within their reach.

Let me briefly touch on two current regulatory issues.  As you know, the Department is seeking comment on the environmental notice for the next round of CAFÉ rule making.  And EPA is also asking for comments on the mid-term evaluation of emissions standards.  I want to encourage all interested stakeholders to provide the Department and EPA with comments and feedback. This Administration is committed to a data driven process, using sound science principles, which we believe leads to better standards.   

And of course, safety will always remain number one.  The Department continues to support the ongoing Takata airbag recall efforts.  We are working with industry to ensure that faulty airbags are recalled and replaced in a timely manner, so that consumers are protected.

In summary, let me reiterate that emerging technologies require a regulatory approach that ensures safety, while encouraging innovation and preserving creativity.  This last point is especially important.  Creativity and innovation are part of the great genius of America—one of its hallmarks.  We must safeguard and nurture this legacy. My goal at the Department of Transportation is to help usher in this new era of transportation innovation and safety, ensuring that our country remains a global leader in emerging transportation technology.

Thank you.

Updated: Thursday, September 14, 2017
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