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Speeches and Presentations

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Remarks | James Owens, Deputy Administrator

Thursday, July 30, 2020 |


Good afternoon.  I’m James Owens, Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  I am pleased to join you today to celebrate 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Thank you to the Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, for organizing this important event and for her continued leadership to ensure transportation is accessible for all.

NHTSA is committed to the safety of everyone on our roads, whether they are in a vehicle, use a wheelchair, or travel on foot.  Transportation means mobility, and mobility is freedom – freedom to travel, to go to work, to attend school, and to visit friends and family.  Thanks to the ADA, people with disabilities have more access to transportation and mobility than ever before.  The last 30 years have brought about important changes in how our society provides access.  

Today, we know that people with disabilities who might otherwise affect driving can modify or add adaptive equipment to their vehicles and drive safely.  As the technology has improved and become more available, the number of people using adapted vehicles has also increased.  NHTSA supports this community of drivers with safety resources and information.

Technology will play an even larger role in the years to come, and NHTSA is particularly interested in the safe development and testing of vehicles with automated driving systems.  These hold the potential to one day help prevent fatal crashes, save lives, and reduce crash severity.  They may also one day improve mobility for underserved communities, including people with disabilities and older adults.  

Last month, NHTSA and the Department of Transportation launched a first-of-its-kind program to promote transparency, safety, and public engagement in the development and on-road testing of automated driving systems.

The Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative, or AV TEST, is the first platform connecting the public, manufacturers, developers, operators, and all levels of government to voluntarily share information about the on-road testing and development of prototype automated driving systems, also known as ADS.  

So far, 10 companies and nine States have signed on as the first participants in the web pilot of the AV TEST Initiative.  By joining this initiative, companies and governments can show the public their commitment to transparency and education while the technology develops.

NHTSA is developing an online, public-facing platform for sharing ADS on-road testing activities and other relevant information at the local, State, and national levels.  We hope to launch this site later this summer.

NHTSA is bringing together stakeholders at all levels to facilitate information sharing, and to educate the public about emerging technologies.

While some vehicles being tested on public roads are carrying passengers, others are delivering groceries and prescriptions to your home.  This can be a great benefit for people who need to stay at home, or who lack accessible transportation.  In fact, earlier this year NHTSA granted a request from Nuro for a temporary exemption from certain low-speed vehicle standards.  

This will permit Nuro to deploy up to 5,000 low-speed, passenger-less vehicles for two years, which will be used for deliveries from restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses.  

NHTSA is conducting research to identify ways to make ADS vehicles accessible to everyone.  One project is looking at the way people with cognitive, sensory, and mobility disabilities interact with technology—the human factors piece.  We need to get that right so that we can arrive at universal design that will extend the benefits of innovative, accessible transportation equipment and services to everyone. 

A second research project focuses on the safety of wheelchair occupants in vehicles.  This project will develop and demonstrate a prototype to automate wheelchair tie down and seat belt deployment.  The second part of the project will develop a complete restraint system for both frontal and side crashes.  We look forward to seeing the results of these projects.

The last 30 years have brought about important changes in how our society provides access for people with disabilities.  Thanks to technology and continued improvements, the next 30 years hold the promise to revolutionize how we travel, expand mobility, and break down barriers.