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G7 Transport Ministers Meeting Session 3: Connected and Automated Driving

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
G7 Transport Ministers Meeting
Session III: Connected and Automated Driving
Cagliari, Italy
June 21, 2017

I am pleased to be here this afternoon to discuss connected and automated driving-- technologies that are on the verge of transforming how we drive, work and live.  In the not too distant future, automated vehicles will be talking to each other—and the surrounding infrastructure-- to navigate our highways, bridges and tunnels more safely, smoothly and efficiently.  Our challenge, as government policy makers, is to ensure this technology is safe, and to build infrastructure that accommodates the future, not just reflects the needs of the past.   

A key component of U.S. strategy for this sector is creating a regulatory framework that encourages, rather than hampers, innovation.  We believe innovation and creativity are one of the hallmarks of our country. Silicon Valley, automobile manufacturers and other innovators are driving the creation of autonomous technology, which can expand access to transportation and significantly enhance safety.     

So for the United States, autonomous technology has great potential we believe to reduce highway fatalities, which after several years of decline are beginning to rise again.  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 overwhelming cause (94%) for nearly all of these accidents was human behavior—speeding, failure to use safety belts, drunk and distracted driving and other poor choices.  So for all of us autonomous technology has the potential to significantly improve safety by addressing the root causes of most fatalities, which is human error.

Autonomous vehicles can also improve access and quality of life for those who-- because of illness, advanced age or disability-- cannot drive.  Let me compliment Italy for its inspiring video presentation on new technology—the MarioWay-- to provide greater mobility and dignity for people with disabilities!  In addition, autonomous technology has the potential to reduce road congestion.  One study estimated that if 50 percent of the vehicles on a road were highly automated, the same road could safely carry 22 percent more traffic with no additional lanes.  Another study found that 30% of the cars in congested downtown traffic are people looking for parking spaces. Technology can offer a solution-- smart sensors are being developed that can talk to vehicles and make parking easier. Demand for parking spaces could also decline if more people opt to use shared autonomous vehicles.  So the impact of autonomous technology is far-reaching.

At the U.S. Department of Transportation, we are working to support the safe deployment of automated road transportation systems in a manner that enhances mobility and promotes efficiency.  We hope to accomplish these goals by:

  • reducing regulatory barriers,
  • sharing knowledge,
  • engaging interested stakeholders,
  • conducting critical research, and,
  • building strong public-private partnerships.

We will help ensure the safety of the nation’s roads by developing guidance for manufacturers, state and local agencies, and other entities involved in the development and deployment of automated technology.  A key document will be the forthcoming update in September 2017 of the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy.  The updated version will clarify issues from the previous policy, and provide voluntary self-assessment criteria that support innovation and safety.  In addition, the Department is examining the ways in which autonomous vehicles interact with current infrastructure, and how this will impact future infrastructure planning.  And the Department is also studying the unique challenges of heavy automated trucks, as well as the impact of autonomous technology on commercial drivers, airplanes, rail cars and ships. 

As a former Secretary of Labor, I am concerned about the disruptive impact of automation on the workforce.  It is imperative that national policies address the workforce displacement potential of emerging technologies, and develop solutions to assist these workers.  The technology of the future will create new jobs, but those caught in the transition must be assisted.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is also working with partners at the state and local level to understand their needs and to pursue autonomous vehicle research and development. 

Finally, the Department is participating in international efforts in support of automated technology.  These include regular technical exchanges with Canada, the U.S.-EU-Japan Automation in Road Transportation Working Group, as well as five other projects with the European Commission.

Let me close by sharing one additional observation.  As you may know, one of the biggest obstacles to the deployment of autonomous vehicles is lack of public acceptance.  A recent study by the American Automobile Association found that 75 percent of American drivers are afraid to ride in a self-driving car.  So it is imperative that Silicon Valley and all innovators in this sector, step up and explain how these technologies work and the benefits they can provide, and address legitimate public concerns about safety and privacy. 

Thank you. 

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