Speeches and Presentations

GPU Technology Conference

Heidi R. King, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | Washington, DC

Most of us in this room share great excitement at the opportunity to unlock the potential of new technologies.  

The excitement – but also the reward – of developing ideas, of building prototypes, problem solving, and seeing that a hack works even better than we hoped. 

Many of us have grown to trust that technology will continue to improve, and we have learned to trust technology in our lives.

At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, we are excited to witness the greatest rate of change in automotive technology in our lifetimes, because of the potential to improve safety

Across the United States, more than 37,000 family members, friends, and neighbors die in traffic crashes each year. 

That’s an unacceptably high number. For those of us who have lost a parent, a child, a close friend or treasured colleague, this is not just a statistic – it represents a needless loss of people we love, and none of us want to become one of those numbers.

The safe testing and development of advanced vehicle technologies promises to save lives.

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, vehicle manufacturers sell vehicles with advanced safety technologies such as automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist. Our vehicles are becoming complex digital consumer products. 

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d be reading auto reviews in PC Magazine. Just last weekend, I read a Consumer Electronic Review that said, “Technology is one of the most important features to consider when buying a new car.” Infotainment, connectivity and apps, audio, navigation, Bluetooth, and safety.

But the technology has a long way to go.

While consumers are buying and gaining experience with new technologies in personal transportation, I hear that many consumers are confused which may lead to misuse and abuse of the systems.  

I also hear that many consumers just choose to disable the advanced safety features they have purchased. 

Our research portfolio has supported the development of our current voluntary guidance approach, to prioritize safety while also enabling innovation.

We are learning and acquiring data and information to remove unnecessary barriers to emerging technologies, while also preserving safety at every step.  

This approach will help us continue to protect all road users inside and outside of vehicles, and to consider the safety of a mixed fleet, since the adoption and integration of many of these advanced automotive technologies will not occur for many years to come.  

This is the start of a journey to develop products that consumers use, that they rely on, that they trust.

Various surveys report that most consumers would not trust a self-driving vehicle.

There’s that word again: Trust.

How will the automotive and technology sectors win consumer trust?

It’s important to recognize that building trust in the performance of a handheld electronic device is very different than building trust in a 4,000-pound vehicle sharing a busy road with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and other vehicles.  

We at the Department of Transportation recently released Preparing for the Future of Transportation, our latest stepping stone on the path to the safe testing and deployment of advanced technology vehicles.

This guidance encourages the integration of safety considerations and transparent communication in the testing and development of transportation technology.  

It reiterates the need for open dialogue on the integration of safety considerations in the development and testing of automation technologies.

This guidance builds upon our existing rigorous safety programs. As most of you know, there is an existing framework to protect the public: 

  • All vehicle and vehicle equipment manufacturers continue to be subject to DOT’s safety regulatory oversight.  
  • Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards apply to motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment.  
  • Any motor vehicle or vehicle equipment continues to be subject to recall if a safety defect exists that poses an unreasonable safety risk.

Building trust is foundational to developing these technologies. 

Building trust requires open, honest communication. And then more open, honest communication.

Building trust requires matching one’s words with actions.

This is why we continue to strongly encourage industry to engage in the dialogue through the disclosure of voluntary safety self-assessments which provide transparency into their development and testing efforts on how they are managing risks around 12 safety elements.  

Transparency is necessary to build public trust and confidence on the safety assurance of these advanced technologies. We continue to encourage entities to proactively take this step, and we applaud those that already have. We hope to add several more company links soon to our website index.  

It’s exciting to witness – and to contribute to – the convergence of digital technology and transportation.

But for all of this amazing technology to matter — all of our work to dream, to problem solve, for emerging technology to be accepted and embraced by travelers, to be adopted by consumers — it must earn trust. 

How do we educate consumers and get feedback on ideas that enhance the consumer experience and safety? What pressing research questions remain unanswered that we or industry must work to answer?   

All require open communications, collaboration, and transparency by all.

I hope that your time together at this conference provides an opportunity to share ideas, but also to challenge one another to communicate openly and to keep an open mind to both the opportunity and the risks.  Because we need to be open to both opportunity and risk -- and build trust with the public -- if we are going to be successful in developing ideas, building prototypes, problem solving, and building trust so that the technology will continue to improve, and most importantly save lives, which could be yours or even mine.