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Carnegie Mellon University Traffic21 Institute 10 Year Anniversary

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Carnegie Mellon University Traffic21 Institute 10 Year Anniversary
Pittsburgh, PA
Thursday, November 7, 2019

Thank you for that introduction President Jahanian.

Today, we celebrate ten years of transportation research, development, and deployment by Traffic21.  This Institute is home to 3 U.S. Department of Transportation University Transportation Centers.  One of these, Mobility21, established the Smart Mobility Challenge, which awards grants for mobility-enhancing projects in suburban and rural communities.  $300,000 in grants will be funded this year.

Carnegie Mellon is also working with the Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative.  This partnership seeks to reduce transportation barriers for people with mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive disabilities.

This may benefit 56.7 million Americans, including disabled veterans, and older adults.  Nearly 30 percent of them report that securing transportation affects their access to jobs. We know this because, as U.S. Secretary of Labor, I directed the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect employment data on persons with disabilities, as part of the monthly Current Population Survey. This helped the Labor Department gain a better understanding of the labor market experience of people with disabilities.  It showed that one of the best ways to help them participate in the economy, is to improve mobility access.

Last week, at the DOT’s Access and Mobility for All Summit, I announced nearly $50 million in new initiatives to expand access to transportation for people with disabilities, older adults, and individuals of low income. You can learn more at transportation.gov/accessibility.

Carnegie Mellon is playing a key role in improving mobility access by helping develop safer “smart” intersection crossings.  These systems will communicate with vehicles and personal devices to improve situational awareness of both the pedestrians and drivers.

As you know, automated vehicles also have the potential to improve traffic safety and increase mobility.  To spur innovation in this sector, the Department released Automated Driving Systems 2.0, and Automated Vehicles 3.0. These are two of the most frequently viewed policy documents posted on the DOT website.

Aviation is also experiencing a wave of innovation, especially the tremendous growth of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.  New uses are being found for drones every day, including surveying, search and rescue, package delivery, and carrying passengers. 

Nearly 1.5 million drones have been registered with the FAA.  Over 400,000 of these drones are flown for commercial purposes.  These are flown by over 150,000 certificated remote pilots, a new job category.  This is triple the number in 2017.  The FAA estimates that the number of certificated drone pilots may exceed instrument-rated manned pilots by 2023.

The Department is helping to chart a course for the safe integration of these innovations into our national airspace.  The three most recent initiatives are allowing the testing of drones in a variety of environments under restricted conditions; helping advance drone airspace management, and developing and implementing a framework for remote drone ID, which has security implications.

Another major area of innovation is the rapidly developing commercial space sector. Thanks to reusable rockets and other innovations, America has regained first place in commercial space launches for the first time in 14 years. 

All these innovations are exciting, but they can also be disruptive.  This is especially true on the roadways, where Americans remain skeptical of automated driving systems.

AAA polling reported that 71 percent of Americans are reluctant to ride in fully self-driving vehicles.  That’s why I have urged developers to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy. I’m pleased that research conducted by Carnegie Mellon and Traffic21 may help address these concerns.

Already, the adoption of advanced driver assistance technology is making driving safer.  These systems include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive lighting and lane keeping technology.  AAA reports that drivers are more likely to trust these new, assistive technologies than driverless innovations.

Driver assistance technology, safer cars, and public awareness safety campaigns are playing a role in reducing highway fatalities.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration just announced that road fatalities decreased in 2018 to 36,600, down from 37,500 in 2017.  This downward trend follows several years of going in the wrong direction.  Automated driving technology and greater public awareness of problems such as distracted driving may help drive these numbers even lower.

To encourage continued development of automated driving systems, The Department awarded a total of $60 million in ADS demonstration grants on September 18, 2019.  8 recipients, chosen from over 70 applicants, were selected to receive these grants.  This is a great opportunity, and the Department looks forward to working with the selectees when the grants are awarded in the next few months.

This investment in research and transportation is needed now, more than ever, as our country’s economy grows.  Since 2016, the economy has added more than 6.7 million jobs.  The unemployment rate is at historic lows – below 4 percent for 20 months.  Wages are rising for the first time in decades. And the labor force participation has increased.  That’s great news for our country, great news for workers, and underscores the importance of keeping the momentum going by continuing to improve our country’s transportation infrastructure so more jobs can be created. 

The innovation spurred by the newly announced ADS demonstration grants will help maintain this economic growth.  So, we are here today to talk about the largest of these grants, which is going to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Carnegie Mellon University.  Pennsylvania received the largest of the ADS demonstration grants – more than $8.4 million.  This demonstration project will study the safe integration of automated driving technology into work zones.  That’s so important because a disproportionate number of roadway workers and first responders are hurt in work zones.

Increasing access to data on work zones is a priority the Department identified through our Data for Automated Vehicle Integration initiative. You can learn more at transportation.gov/AV/data, including our plan to fund grants that increase access to work zone data.

Before I finish, let me mention one more issue of note.  Connectivity highlights a sometimes overlooked component of transportation safety – the radio spectrum. 20 years ago, the Federal Communications Commission set aside 75 megahertz in the 5.9 Gigahertz spectrum band for traffic safety use.  Today, new vehicle and infrastructure technology being developed uses this band to communicate.  So, the original plan to reserve a portion of the airwaves for transportation use was – and still is – a smart decision.

So, thank you for all that you are doing to develop and enhance transportation innovation.  The Department is your partner.  Working together, we can help ensure that this new era of transportation innovation leaves no one behind, and benefits everyone. 

Thank you.

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Updated: Thursday, November 7, 2019
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