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Transportation Research Board

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Transportation Research Board
Washington, DC
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thank you, Vickifor that introduction. 

Congratulations on TRB’s centennial!  TRB and the U. S. Department of Transportation have a shared goal of helping to build the transportation system of the future.  As you know, our efforts at the U. S. Department of Transportation are threefold:   

The first is: safety, which is always #1.

The second is rebuilding and refurbishing our country’s critical infrastructure.

The third is to prepare for the transportation systems of the future by engaging with emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy, without hampering innovation.

At the U.S. Department of Transportation, we are always working on ways to make transportation safer, more accessible, and better for everyone — today and in the future!

So, that’s what the new Department of Transportation White House initiative on automated vehicles is all about.   “AV 4.0 – Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies” unifies AV efforts across 38 Federal Government entities in the face of rapid changes in this technology.    In 2018, 36,560 people were killed in traffic crashes.    Though this number has been decreasing, one fatality is one too many.  Research and analysis have shown that 94% of crashes are due to human error.  The potential appeal of AVs is its ability to save thousands of lives every year.    AVs could also restore mobility for millions of people who face transportation challenges, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. 

AV technologies are not yet advanced enough to enable wide-scale deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.  But someday they will be.  Today, we are seeing more automated features in new cars that are improving safety on America’s roads such as:  Blind-Spot Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and Automatic Emergency Braking, just to mention a few.

To better gauge the safety benefits of these Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS), I am announcing today an expansion of PARTS, or the Partnership for Analytics Research in Traffic Safety program. This data-sharing partnership between government and the private sector enables collaborative safety analysis.  Initially, it focused on Automatic Emergency Braking.  PARTS-2 will expand participation to nearly 70 percent of the U.S. automobile market, allowing data sharing through a third party so that private sector partners can learn from each other to resolve safety issues before they arise.  And it will gather data on ADAS systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assistance.

In the interest of clarity for consumers, and to help drivers better understand what the various ADAS systems do, today the U.S. Department of Transportation is supporting consistency in ADAS terminology.  Initiatives such as “Clearing the Confusion,” spearheaded by the National Safety Council, AAA, Consumer Reports and J.D. Power are based on ADAS system functionality.  Currently, there is variance among manufacturers.  We want to make sure that drivers are aware that these systems are designed to “assist,” not replace an engaged driver.

Next steps for this technology include vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.  Not so long ago, the notion of vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication seemed fanciful and futuristic.  But today, I’m announcing a new pilot program to deploy V2X around the country to help prevent accidents involving First Responders.  Every year there are about 46,000 crashes, 17,000 injuries and 150 fatalities involving emergency response vehicles.

This brand new initiative—the First Responder Safety Technology Pilot Program-- will provide up to $38 million to equip emergency response vehicles, transit vehicles and related infrastructure, including traffic signals and highway-rail-grade crossings, with V2X technology.  These systems will use the 5.9 Gigahertz Safety Band of spectrum currently allocated for use in transportation systems.  We believe it is very important to retain this bandwidth for this purpose and the Department is actively advocating the FCC to do so.     

In the past three years, the Department has been heavily engaged in improving infrastructure throughout our country.  Annually, the Department spends about $70 billion for infrastructure needs.  Among our most significant, competitive discretionary grant initiatives is INFRA, or the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program.  

In FY2020, $906 million has been allocated by Congress for INFRA grants.  A Notice of Funding Opportunity was announced this past Monday.  The deadline for applications is February 25, 2020.  These INFRA grants will fund projects that support economic development, move freight, address congestion, connectivity gaps, and crumbling infrastructure.   Priority consideration will be given to projects that promote innovation and have strong local and private sector participation.  And at long last, long-neglected rural areas will get their fair share of consideration. 

In addition to infrastructure grants, the Department also funds research and development in the amount of $1 billion annually to support transportation-related research.  And the Department helps in other ways.  Last November 4, 2019, the Volpe Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts held a groundbreaking for its landmark new facility.  The Department supported this project by facilitating a unique innovative land swap transaction with MIT! 

All modes of transportation are benefiting from innovation.  Drones—or unmanned aircraft systems—are a rapidly emerging new technology making a big impact on aviation.  Their use is increasing.  Over 1.5 million drones have been registered with the FAA.  These are flown by more than 160,000 certificated remote pilots -- a new job category.  To achieve safe integration of drones in the airspace, the Department recently published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making that drones over 0.55 pounds need to be equipped with remote identification technology.  The comment period ends March 2, 2020.  Recent news reports of mystery drones flying in formation in Colorado and Nebraska are a timely illustration of why Remote ID is needed. 

Innovation is also changing the way we travel into space.  Six years ago, the U.S. was third behind Russia and China in commercial space launches. Today, the U.S. is Number One in commercial space launches—thanks to private sector developments such as re-usable rockets, air-launch systems, and other innovations. To improve upon this success, the Department is overhauling outdated and cumbersome commercial space licensing regulations and launch procedures. And the Office of Spaceports was recently established to license commercial spaceports.

So today, transportation has become synonymous with innovation.  The TRB is a longstanding partner of the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Working together, we can help enable a future in which transportation innovations will increase safety, strengthen economic growth, improve quality of life and ensure that our country remains a global technology leader.

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