Speeches and Presentations

American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE)

Presented at Annual Airports and the Rental Car Industry Workshop (as drafted) | Heidi R. King, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA

Monday, November 5, 2018 | Tampa, FL

Thank you for inviting me to join you.  

It is an exciting time in transportation, with a rapid pace of innovation that promises to enhance safety and efficiency in every mode of transportation.  

Changes are occurring across most of the transportation system.

In many of our communities, consumers have access to a broader range of choices across the modes of transportation.

  • Fewer young adults own or drive personal vehicles
  • Many of our neighborhoods now have more pedestrians, and more bicyclists – including share-bike systems
  • Ride-sharing supplements and competes with personal vehicle use and with public transit
  • Now, electric scooters have appeared on our streets

And we are all adapting to the changes. In fact, one major auto manufacturer announced Friday that they are working on electric bikes, that they plan to release in 2019.

Even as consumers are choosing from more transportation options than ever before, new designs of cars and trucks offer more choices, too.

During recent years, new cars have come to offer advanced features like automatic emergency braking, back-up cameras, blind spot detection, lane keeping and collision alerts, and drivers’ assist features.

We read in the news that self-driving cars are under development, and that testing is already underway.

As far as we’ve come, the technology still has a long way to go before self-driving cars become a reality for most of us.  

Currently, there are no vehicles sold with fully self-driving technologies; all of today’s vehicles still require the driver to be engaged and responsible for vehicle operations at all times.   

But already today, our vehicles are becoming complex digital consumer products. 

So much so that I find myself reading about cars in PC Magazine. I’ve read electronic product reviews that tell me “Technology is one of the most important features to consider when buying a new car.” Infotainment, connectivity and apps, audio, navigation, Bluetooth, and safety.

There are other changes that are common on our roads today, and that change does not come without challenges and risks.  

That is why I am so pleased to be with you today. I believe there is much we can do together to foster a safe transition for consumers, and for the driving public.

At the Department of Transportation, Secretary Elaine L. Chao’s priorities are safety, infrastructure, and preparing for the future.

At NHTSA, our mission is to save lives and prevent injuries. For that reason, our interest in automated driving systems is in motor vehicle innovations that may improve safety.

Vehicle automation has captured the imagination of the public because of its seemingly miraculous potential to improve safety, to enhance mobility, and to add more useful hours to our day. Instead of sitting in traffic, many of us imagine hours currently focused on the driving task that could be spent doing something else. 

The potential for dramatically enhanced mobility for those who are unable to drive conventional vehicles— including the elderly, disabled, or vision-impaired—would be nothing short of life-changing.

Because the technology could offer such dramatic safety, mobility, and economic benefits, the emerging technology attracts billions of dollars in private investments.

But for NHTSA, the value lies in how many lives we can save, and how many injuries we can prevent.

In the United States, we lose more than 37,000 friends and neighbors, colleagues, and family members to traffic crashes every year.

We hope that the emerging technology will save lives, but it will only get to market if ALL OF US take these first steps wisely and safely.

NHTSA regulates all vehicles

As many of you know, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the Agency responsible for automotive safety in the United States. 

NHTSA’s mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and to reduce the cost of traffic crashes. 

NHTSA regulates the design, performance, and manufacture of motorized vehicles, including traditional automobiles, trucks, and buses, but also those equipped with new technologies.

In fact, all vehicles -- and all vehicle equipment manufacturers -- continue to be subject to DOT’s safety regulatory oversight.  

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are the specific regulations that apply to both motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment.  

But the oversight is not limited only to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Any motor vehicle or vehicle equipment continues to be subject to recall if a safety defect exists that poses an unreasonable safety risk.

NHTSA also supports safe driver behaviors

In addition to regulating motorized vehicles, NHTSA develops and supports programs to improve driver safety.

We develop and support programs that encourage drivers to wear their seatbelts, to avoid speeding, and to drive sober. To secure their children, and to make safe decisions near work zones or when crossing train tracks.

And we support programs to educate drivers about the new features on their cars – the automatic emergency braking, back-up cameras, blind spot detection, lane keeping and collision alerts, and drivers’ assist features.

We hear that many consumers are confused about the new technologies in their cars.  In some cases, the drivers may disable a safety feature – and in other cases, a driver could over-rely on a feature.

As we prepare for automated vehicles, there is much we are learning from the recent changes in automobile technology. And I believe that there is much that we should be doing now in the name of safety – both in the present and in the future.

Educating consumers is a critical part of adapting to new technology

The average age of a vehicle on the roads today is 11.6 years old, so many consumers first encounter these advanced technologies when renting a car.  

At the same time, rental car customers want less face-to-face interaction and more automated check-ins, reducing opportunities for employees to explain car features to customers.  

Consumers want to get in their car and go. But, they are getting into cars with features they may never have experienced before.

I am hopeful that car and truck rental organizations will consider simple consumer education tools, such as a tent card or hangtag in a rental vehicle, or perhaps including a flyer with a rental agreement, to describe a vehicle’s specific safety features.  

Such simple measures could help improve customer experience with important crash avoidance technologies.  

I believe that this will reduce risk – the risk that results from a driver operating a vehicle with unfamiliar features.

Toward that goal, last month I sent a letter to Sharon Faulkner, Executive Director of the American Car Rental Association (ACRA), inviting ACRA to collaborate with NHTSA.

And I would love to partner with YOU. To support your customers as they encounter new technologies for the first time.

As technology continues to evolve, I believe that our consumer engagement must evolve as well, and that open communication and consumer education are vitally important.

I see this as a vital step in preparation for more advanced technologies.

Recall management should be a priority

We also must be much better about tracking and acting to address open recalls.

As cars and trucks continue to change and become more complex, the importance of tracking and addressing recalls has become more important as well.

Thank you to the association and its members for continuing to support the safety of the motoring public by working hard to ensure that rental car customers are never placed in a position where they are offered a vehicle that has an open safety recall.

The law requires that consumers should not be offered a rental vehicle with an open recall. 

We know administration of this preventative measure is not easy, particularly at a time when auto recalls are at some of their highest levels, and, in some cases, the recall remedies are not immediately available. 

NHTSA continues to receive complaints from the motoring public about rentals of cars with open recalls. 

Apart from this being illegal, this is a very serious matter to me because each incident represents a possibility that the renter, their friends or family, or those sharing the road with them, could become a victim.  

I encourage you to review your company policies and practices, and to self-assess implementation and execution in the field. 
I urge you to take the measures you need to continue to ensure your customers’ safety. 

As we prepare for a future in which more advanced technologies are incorporated into our transportation system, we must be ready to respond to open recalls quickly and without hesitation.  

Future systems will likely depend on it.

During times of change, open communication is critical

I am excited about the potential safety improvements that emerging technology will provide.

Today, too many friends and neighbors lose their lives in needless traffic crashes, a stunning loss of life that is simply unacceptable.

Innovative technologies offer the potential to save lives and protect us from injury. But to be ready for that future, we must learn from the experiences on our roads today.

We must practice new ways of improving our communication, and get even better at consumer education.

And we must execute flawlessly on open recalls. We should be ready to remedy emerging safety threats, including cybersecurity vulnerabilities, by monitoring and addressing recalls.

The NHTSA team is ready to support your efforts in these areas. I am ready to support your efforts, and look forward to hearing how we can work together to improve safety during this time of historic change.

Thank you again, for inviting me to speak with you here today.