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Speeches and Presentations

AV Symposium Remarks

Prepared Remarks for Heidi King, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Thursday, July 12, 2018 | San Francisco, CA

As a child in a California family that loved road trips, I loved to sit in the back seat and look out the window and daydream.

  • Long rows of strawberries, alfalfa, or tomatoes seemed to run past our car as if they were long legs. 
  • Irrigation ditches winked from between fruit trees. Along the ocean, swells lined up into neat, white curls and crashed before themselves, the occasional surfboard breaking free from its leash and riding to shore alone.
  • Today, when I return to California I recognize certain views like old friends. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sit in the back seat and watch the long legs of alfalfa running, or imagine what might live in the thick orchards of oranges or plums.

But soon, I hope to again lose myself in my thoughts while traveling up 101 thanks to transportation technology innovation.


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 magical potential to not only improve safety and enhance mobility, but also to add more productive hours to our day — hours that we now spend focused on the driving task. The potential for the technology to offer mobility options to those who are unable to drive conventional vehicles—such as the elderly, disabled or vision-impaired—is also very exciting, and potentially life-changing.

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

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

We lost 37,461 friends and neighbors, colleagues and family members to traffic crashes in 2016. Nearly as many in 2017. 

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.

Across  the Department of Transportation, we are committed to assuring safety without hindering innovation.

The potential to save lives through automation is why I’m so excited to discuss these topics with you today.


When I listen to people talk about vehicle automation, I hear many different visions:

  • The self-driving minivan with a family playing cards together in the back
  • A businesswoman working on a presentation on her laptop as her automated vehicle whisks her to her next meeting
  • Commercial truck platoons traveling in dedicated-lane superhighways, with vehicle-to-vehicle signaling that allows safer, cheaper transport of consumer goods
  • Pizza delivery robots on urban streets
  • Driverless campus shuttles at universities, business parks, or urban downtowns

There are many options. I challenge each of you—each of us—to keep our minds open. I don’t know how or where advanced transportation technologies will develop, but I’m sure of one thing: They won’t go far unless and until consumers find value in them.

Whatever we are imagining, the reality could be quite different. We don’t know what the technology will bring. Technology does not stay in its lane.

Keeping an open mind to technology that is still developing is why NHTSA has adopted a voluntary approach to safety disclosures.

We believe that a voluntary approach is appropriate at this point in the development of the emerging technology, because a need to regulate hasn’t been demonstrated. That’s because many technologies are still very much in the testing phase and others – like V2V communications – are just emerging for commercial application.

To our communities, the need for safety is simple:

  • The public wants innovators to assure them that automated driving systems won’t crash into things.
  • They want to know how companies assure that the occupants of self-driving cars will be safe, or if they are in a traditional vehicle that they will be safe if a crash does occur with one of these vehicles.
  • They want to know how developers will assure that advanced technology vehicles will obey traffic laws to avoid creating hazards on our roadways.
  • And they want to know how they’ll get safely to their destinations.

Since September 2017, the Department has been focusing on implementation of our voluntary guidance for Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety.

The 12 Safety Elements outlined in A Vision for Safety would go a long way to addressing the public’s questions, as well as helping State and local decision-makers. An open dialogue would help us all identify where we need to grow together, to identify where we need to collaborate, and further communicate.

Voluntary safety self-assessments will allow the public to see that designers, developers, and innovators are taking safety seriously and that safety considerations are built into the design and manufacture of vehicles that are tested on our roadways — the same roadways that we use to transport our loved ones.

NHTSA is working with companies to support the disclosure of voluntary safety self-assessments to help build the public’s trust and confidence with Automated Driving Systems.

DOT and NHTSA applaud those two companies that have already proactively taken this step. We understand that several other companies are working on their own, and we are working with these companies to see if there is anything more we can do to support additional releases of voluntary safety self-assessments.

Encouraging voluntary safety self-assessments does not limit existing safety laws, regulations or authorities.

  • NHTSA continues to be responsible for all motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment, and because safety is our first priority and our mission, we will continue to use our enforcement authority when needed.
  • We recently executed our authority with a certain motor vehicle equipment manufacturer whose product was designed and marketed as workaround to a safety feature. 

We encourage everyone engaged in the testing and deployment of these innovative technologies to prioritize safety.

  • I and the Department of Transportation applaud the manufacturers that have become leaders in sharing their safety self-assessments, and we encourage all manufacturers and developers to help us all understand, to include the public, their work in our shared vision for safety. 
  • Many of you have told me that your assessments are nearly ready and we are excited to advance the safety dialogue during this time of rapid development. To engage our public, your future customers, in the journey to enhanced safety and mobility.

In anticipation of further disclosures of self-assessments, NHTSA has created a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment Index on our website to make it easier for the public to find these documents. Visit and search for VSSA.


Many of you share my enthusiasm for telecommunications applied to our transportation system. Already, manufacturers are planning their use of the transportation safety spectrum.

The Department of Transportation remains supportive of priority use of the 5.9 GHz band for innovative transportation applications that can enhance safety and mobility. We hope that the safety spectrum will achieve its promise in transportation safety.

But we recognize spectrum is a constrained resource and we are supportive of the FCC’s obligation to investigate options for sharing this band with other users.

It is important to know the safety applications that the transportation industry has developed. It’s important to know what’s already deployed. And it’s important to know how safety benefits might be available through various options.

We are pleased that GM began offering safety communications on a vehicle platform since last year. And we are pleased to see Toyota’s recent announcement that they also will be offering models with connected vehicle communications that use the 5.9 GHz band beginning in 2021.

And I understand from my FHWA colleagues that there are over 50 cities across the United States where local DOTs are already using the 5.9 GHz band for exciting transportation applications.

While we are supportive of prioritizing the 5.9 band for transportation use, the Department remains technology neutral relative to communication protocols. That means that we believe there may be opportunity for more than one technology.

For example, while our past research has centered around DSRC — because that was the only technology available — we are also exploring other technologies, including cellular V2X, or CV2X.

We will continue to work closely with our colleagues at FCC and NTIA to explore optimal use of the 5.9 GHz band — and we look forward to working with industry stakeholders, such as yourselves, as we do so.


The same trends that bring infrastructure technologies and vehicle systems closer through wireless interfaces also make vehicles part of an ecosystem that raises significant safety and cybersecurity questions. At the end of the day, the cybersecurity of an ecosystem is as strong as the weakest link in the chain.

This is a real and serious issue that requires significant commitment to managing the underlying safety risks of introducing wireless communication links. And many here and in the auto industry are part of this activity.

The challenge is significant but there are many resources that can help. On the government side, the Department of Homeland Security is great place to start: The automotive industry has also responded with several initiatives that are advancing the state of cybersecurity in the vehicle sector.

For example, many of us are excited about the establishment of the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Auto-ISAC), which provides a central hub and safe harbor for industry to share cybersecurity information. We encourage all to learn more about Auto-ISAC and how they can help the overall cybersecurity ecosystem.

I am pleased to have participated with Auto ISAC, other federal agencies and companies in the sixth iteration of the Cyber Storm series, the Department of Homeland Security’s biennial exercise. Cyber Storm provides the framework for the most extensive government-sponsored cybersecurity exercise of its kind. Cyber Storm 6 focused on manufacturing and transportation sectors, with participation from the information technology and communications sectors. The lessons that come out of that exercise should provide a foundation for future actions to strengthen our cybersecurity framework.

Our very real need is to make steady progress toward implementing best practices and sharing information on possible threats and vulnerabilities and help each other expeditiously address them when identified.


I’d also like to tell you about a few actions that NHTSA is taking to assure safety while avoiding limits on safety innovation.

Soon we will be seeking public comment on developing proposals for the establishment of a pilot research program for the safe on-road testing and development of the emerging advanced vehicle safety technologies, especially automated driving systems. The action is listed in our regulatory agenda as “Pilot Program for Collaborative Research on Motor Vehicles with High or Full Driving Automation.”

Many of you are aware of our efforts to hear from you regarding “Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Driving Systems.” That notice seeks comment on existing motor vehicle regulatory barriers to the introduction and certification of automated driving systems.

I’m excited about “Updating the Petition Process for Exemption from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”

NHTSA intends to seek comment on whether updating certain provisions of NHTSA's regulation regarding the processing of petitions for exemption from Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) could improve the process for reviewing innovative safety technologies.

A number of actions are underway to support safety innovation that we did not imagine decades ago when some of our regulations were first crafted.


We all share excitement for the potential of automated driving systems to improve safety and mobility and even transform our lives. But it is important to also remain cautious.

How open we are to acknowledging the potential – not only the benefits but also the risks -- is critical. Transparency with one another on matters like cybersecurity, and with the public on how we assure safety, will be as important to the success of automated vehicles as the advances in the hardware and software, radar, and sensors that might enable a truly self-driving car or truck.

It’s tempting to get caught up in our enthusiasm. It’s sometimes alluring to get lost in the technical aspects of the work, the technical problem solving. It’s easy to lose sight of our goal in drafting guidance, regulation, and policy — but the bottom line is people. Does the technology add value to their lives and contribute to mobility? Most importantly, does it make them safer?

NHTSA believes automated vehicles have the potential to make our roads safer and save lives. That is why we all have a duty to test and deploy automated vehicles safely — so that people will trust in it, use it, and help us achieve our goal of reducing vehicle crashes and saving lives.

Thank you for asking me to join you today.