With technology rapidly transforming the automotive industry, it’s future remains uncertain.
But U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao promised that the federal government will work with the automotive industry on a path of innovation.
“It is truly a unique time for the auto industry as new technology is integrated into vehicles,” said Chao in her speech at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday, Jan. 14. “Gains in mobility from automated technology will help our country remain competitive and create a brighter future for so many.”
Chao kicked off the media preview of the show, held in the atrium of Detroit’s Cobo Center, emphasizing ways the Trump administration wants to break down barriers to innovation around autonomous technology. She emphasized the benefits and challenges of self-driving cars and encouraged companies across the industry to communicate to consumers about how these new technologies work.
“Automated vehicles hold a promise of not only improving safety but increasing mobility for so many people,” she said.
Chao noted that self-driving vehicles could increase transportation options for the elderly and people with disabilities. She also emphasized that automated-vehicle technology has the potential to reduce the risk of driver error.
“Today, 94% of traffic accidents involve driver error,” she said. “Driver fatalities have been increasing for the last two years… Once a sufficient percent of vehicles are automated, this risk will decrease. The risk will then focus less on drivers and more on software.”
To get to that point, she said the public and private sectors must work together to be a world leader in safely developing, testing and integrating AV technology into the U.S. transportation system.
Another aspect that comes with that is educating the public on it.
A study by AAA found that 78% of Americans surveyed are afraid to ride in a driverless car, Chao cited.
“There are legitimate public concerns that must be addressed before this technology can reach its full potential in out society,” she said.
Chao outlined the approach to automated vehicles under the Trump administration and stressed safety as its first priority.
“A key part is to cultivate innovation in safety by eliminating unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology,” Chao said.
She highlighted three initiatives the transportation department has taken to support innovation.
Develop Testing Guidelines
The U.S. has already developed voluntary guidelines for the safe testing and integration of autonomous vehicles, called Automated Driving Safety Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0. This will include a dashboard the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is developing that will allow the public to see letters voluntarily published about automakers’ autonomous vehicles.
Identifying Barriers to Innovation
Second, the department will request more information from across the transportation industry on barriers to innovation. Chao said the first of four “notices” asking for information was published Jan. 10 on the department’s website.
“Right now, there are many transportation rules and concepts that apply to an automated world,” she said. “The request for inputs will help the department and the government identify which regulations that need to be updated to allow for innovation to move forward.”
She highlighted General Motors’ recent petition with the NHTSA to request an exemption to test a limited number of autonomous vehicles without steering wheels on the road. The vehicles are part of its self-driving arm, called Cruise.
Applauding the company’s initiative, she said department will carefully consider the petition.
Using Big Data
This year, the transportation department plans to launch a safety data initiative to provide stakeholders with better and more usable safety data to design automated driving assistance technology. The department currently has about 800 different sets of transportation data that it plans to put into formats that will be more accessible and useful to stakeholder.
“Data science is rapidly transforming the auto industry,” Chao said about this upcoming initiative.
With technological developments, Chao pushed for the automotive industry to work with the government to ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in automotive innovation.
“None of us know the future,” she said, “but we are looking for insights that help the department and government better understand how this technology will evolve.”