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Detroit Auto Show

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Detroit Auto Show
Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thank you, Congresswoman Dingell, for that introduction.  Let me also acknowledge Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, and Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.   Several members of our DOT leadership are joining us today, as well:  Undersecretary for Policy Derek Kan, Acting NHTSA Administrator Heidi King, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Finch Fulton.

It is a pleasure to join you today at the North American International Auto Show.  This is an amazing event!  The vehicles on display are a wonderful combination of technological excellence, innovation and artistic design.  Many say that America has a love affair with the automobile.  It is a symbol of personal freedom – the ability to go wherever you want, whenever you want.  It has provided point-to-point transportation from the front door to the factory floor, and many other destinations, for more than a century.  And if the Detroit Auto Show is any indication, the American love affair with the automobile is still going strong.

But, as we all know, transportation is on the verge of the most significant transformation since the introduction of the automobile.  Automated or self-driving vehicles are about to change the way we travel and connect with one another. This technology has tremendous potential to enhance safety.

Automated vehicles have some advantages over vehicles with drivers.  They have faster reaction times, 360-degree vision and they can see at night.  On the other hand, people are much better at providing context to driving situations. One of the notable aspects of automated vehicle technology is the potential to reduce the risk of driver error. Today, 94 percent of traffic accidents involve driver error. In fact, traffic fatalities have been increasing over the past two years to 37,461 in 2016.  Once a sufficient percentage of vehicles are automated, however, risk will focus less on drivers and more on software.

Automated vehicles hold the promise of not only improving safety, but increasing access to mobility.  Their capacity to increase mobility for our elderly and people with disabilities could provide millions with security, freedom and a better quality of life.

The Department of Transportation has a role to play in shaping the future of this technology.  So, this afternoon, let me share some thoughts about this Administration’s approach to transportation innovation, and the benefits and challenges it holds.

First, the public and private sectors have an obligation to lead by safely developing, testing and integrating this new technology into our transportation systems.  We must work together to ensure that our country retains its preeminent position as a global technology leader.

Second, many have concerns about the safety, security and privacy of AV technology. A recent AAA survey found that 78 percent of Americans surveyed are afraid to ride in a driverless car.  So there are legitimate public concerns that must be addressed before this technology can reach its full potential in our society.

There’s an additional concern about the “disruptive” nature of this technology and its impact on jobs. As former Secretary of Labor, this concerns me greatly. In the long run, new technologies will create different types of jobs. But the transition period can be very difficult for dislocated workers.  So, it is important to help these workers adapt to this new world. 

That’s why I’m pleased to see that Automobili-D is holding its first Future Automotive Career Exposition (FACE) at this year’s show.  This partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation will give qualified candidates an opportunity to meet with vendors who have jobs to offer.  I appreciate this forward-looking approach that links workers with jobs in demand.

Finally, at the U.S. Department of Transportation, safety will always be our number one priority.  That’s why a key part of DOT’s mission is to cultivate and encourage innovation in safety by eliminating unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology. Our approach will be tech neutral and flexible – not top-down, or command and control.

The Department will not be in the business of picking winners or losers, or favoring one form of technology over another.  The Department also prefers to avoid a patchwork approach by encouraging interoperability standards and consistent rules, while respecting the role of state and local governments.  Let me emphasize that inter-modalism is a key part of the Department’s approach to infrastructure. Our goal is to encourage the development of a wide variety of safe transportation options, so communities and individuals can choose the mix that suits them best. 

This Administration is especially concerned that transportation policy be inclusive, and address the needs of rural – as well as urban – areas.   We hear a lot about Smart Cities.  And that’s great, but not everyone lives downtown.  And it is worth noting that rural America accounts for a disproportionately large share of highway fatalities.  So, automated technology has an important role to play in rural mobility and safety, as well.

Let me mention three recent initiatives the Department has launched to encourage innovation.

First, on September 12, 2017, DOT published new voluntary guidance for the safe testing and integration of autonomous vehicles: ADS 2.0: A Vision for Safety. This technology is changing so fast that a multi-modal version, AV 3.0 is already in the works. We welcome your input.  Look for it to be released this summer.

As I mentioned, AV 3.0 will include guidance for more than just automobiles. It will address barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure and other modes, as well. The Department will update this guidance as often as needed.  That’s part of our commitment to streamline the process and to keep pace with innovation.

Let me note that AV 3.0 will preserve the voluntary Safety Assessment Letters.  Let me encourage those who are interested and choose to participate, to publish these letters.  NHTSA is currently developing a Dashboard that will allow the public to view the letters that are voluntarily published.  Let me emphasize, once again, that these letters are voluntary – not mandatory.

Second – on January 10th at 8:45 am PST – the Department published the first four of a series of notices requesting information and comment from across the transportation industry to identify barriers to innovation. Look for them on DOT’s website and in the Federal Register.   One is from NHTSA, and asks for insights regarding regulatory barriers for AV.  Two are from the Federal Transit Administration, and address AV bus technology and barriers.  And the fourth is from the Federal Highway Administration, and addresses infrastructure technology for AVs. We don’t know the future, so we are looking for insights that can help us better understand how this technology will evolve.  The remaining requests for information will be published in the near future.

Right now, there are many transportation rules, terms and concepts that may no longer apply to an automated world.  The requests for input will help us identify which regulations, parts of regulations or terminology need to be updated to allow for innovation to move forward.

Within the last several days, one automaker filed a petition with NHTSA requesting an exemption to have a limited number of autonomous vehicles operate in a controlled ride-share program.   Many existing motor vehicle standards were designed to apply to vehicles with conventional driver controls like steering wheels and gas and brake pedals.   The petition states it would use automated vehicles with no human drivers, and no human driver controls.   So it is not an exaggeration to suggest that these technology developments are happening very quickly.   The Department will review this petition, and give it responsible and careful consideration.  This automaker also published a voluntary safety assessment letter, which helps increase public awareness about how these vehicles are designed to operate safely. 

Third, the Department has launched a Safety Data Initiative to provide stakeholders with better and more useable safety data. This is an important resource for designing and evaluating the safety of automated driving systems.  The Department currently maintains nearly 800 different sets of transportation data.  The Safety Data Initiative will integrate key safety databases, and use visualization tools to put them into formats that are far more accessible and useful to stakeholders. 

That’s important because data science is rapidly transforming the auto industry.  OEMs are investing significant resources hiring data scientists and computer engineers. It’s truly a unique time for the automotive industry as new technologies are integrated into vehicles.
These are just three recent DOT initiatives to spur innovation and increase safety – there are more to come. 

All of you here today are part of our country’s innovation economy, one of the most powerful drivers of opportunity and job creation in the world.  You are the vanguard of a transportation future that will be safer, more accessible, and more efficient.  The gains in mobility from automated technology will help our country remain competitive, and create a better quality of life and brighter futures for so many.  So let me challenge you to step up and educate the public more fully about the tremendous potential and benefits of this new technology. 

Before I close, let me give a shout out to Fiat Chrysler Automobile, which announced Friday it will invest $1 billion in its Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan.  It will relocate production of the next generation Ram Heavy Duty Truck from Mexico to Michigan, hiring 2,500 new U.S. workers.  In addition, the company announced that – thanks to the savings generated by tax reform – 60,000 hourly and salaried FCA employees in the U.S. will receive a special $2,000 bonus.  This is just one example of the positive impact the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will have on workers, job creators and our country.

So thank you for inviting me here today!  Together, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the transportation revolution, and that our country remains a world leader in innovation and job creation.

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Updated: Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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