An Exciting Time for Safety and Autonomous Vehicles
Secretary Elaine L. Chao was in Detroit to address the 25th Enhanced Safety of Vehicles Conference Monday. ESV is a biannual international conference that brings together experts to discuss emerging safety technologies. In the city where Henry Ford first revolutionized the automobile, Secretary Chao and the automotive industry are focused on the next great advances in vehicle safety and, in particular, the benefits of automated vehicle systems.
ESV is addressing a wide array of vehicle safety technologies—everything from occupant protection and biomechanics, to electronic cybersecurity and advanced crash avoidance systems. That’s important because, after decades of declines, motor vehicle fatalities are again on the rise. In the United States alone, 35,092 people lost their lives on the highways in 2015—an increase of more than 7 percent above the previous year.
There is one constant in the vast majority of vehicle crashes: 94 percent are due to human error. That’s why autonomous vehicle systems are so potentially transformative: they could save tens of thousands of lives by addressing the human factors that cause accidents.
The Department has a role to play by ensuring the safe development, testing, and deployment of automated vehicle technologies. DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Federal Automated Vehicle Policy in September 2016. The Department is now reviewing and updating this policy to take into account improvements recommended by numerous stakeholders. It will provide a path forward for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles by supporting industry innovation and encouraging open communication with the public and with stakeholders; making Department processes more nimble to help match the pace of private sector innovation; and encouraging new entrants and ideas that deliver safer vehicles. Secretary Chao has asked NHTSA to accelerate the process of finalizing the updated voluntary framework.
The benefits of automated vehicle systems even extend beyond safety. American motorists currently spend more than 6.9 billion hours a year sitting in traffic, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. That amounts to more than $300 billion in wasted time and fuel. Reclaiming this time will put more money in the taxpayers’ pockets and give them more time with their families.
The future of advanced automated vehicles is full of promise. As she walked the floor of the convention, Secretary Chao visited with the leaders who are helping to deliver automated technologies and discussed their potential to help us avoid crashes and reduce motor vehicle fatalities and injuries. It’s an exciting time for these technologies—one that we’re focused on at DOT.