Skip to main content
Speeches and Presentations

Keynote Address at ITS America

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

Tuesday, June 05, 2018 | Detroit

Thank you to Shailen Bhatt [President and CEO, ITS America] and to everyone at ITS America for providing a forum to discuss the latest and greatest in transportation innovation.

At the Department of Transportation, our priorities are safety, infrastructure, and preparing for the future.

At NHTSA, our interest in intelligent transport is, of course, in motor vehicle automation innovation for safety.

Vehicle automation has captured the imagination of the public because of its seemingly magical potential.

It attracts billions of dollars in private investment because of its market potential.

At NHTSA, vehicle automation is a central focus because of its lifesaving potential.

The men and women of NHTSA are enthusiastic about the mission to make our roads safer: To reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses from motor vehicle crashes.

That is the perspective through which we view progress in automation.

For us, the only calculus involves a single data point: 37,461.

That’s the number of friends and neighbors, colleagues and family members we lost in crashes in 2016.

At NHTSA, we are committed to assuring safety without hindering innovation.

That’s what formed the basis of A Vision for Safety, our voluntary automated vehicle guidance to encourage best practices, remove barriers to innovation, and prioritize safety.

So as we celebrate progress and potential in intelligent transportation, let’s also remember that the public benefit in terms of safety is what is paramount to our efforts. The potential to save lives through automation is why I’m so excited to discuss these topics with ITS America today.

I’d like to share some thoughts with you today on:

  • Voluntary Safety Disclosures;
  • Transportation Safety Spectrum;
  • Cybersecurity; and
  • I’ll tell you a little about what we’re working on and what is coming up.

When you think of advanced technology vehicles, what do you think of? 

The self-driving minivan with a family playing cards in the back, or a businesswoman working on her laptop?

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?

Commercial product hauling or delivery?

My point is this: There are a lot of options. And I challenge each of you—each of us—to keep your minds open. I don’t know how or where advanced transportation technologies will develop, but I’m sure of one thing: It won’t go far unless and until consumers find value.

There are a lot of potential user-cases for advanced vehicle technologies. It is not all about passenger transportation on existing roadways in mixed traffic with both human and machine operated vehicles. It is that too—but not only that.

The only thing I am certain of is this: 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.

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

In A Vision for Safety, NHTSA tried to strike a balance: to make the information useful for the transportation community but also accessible to the public.

The public wants to know how innovators assure that automated driving systems won’t crash into things.

They want to know how manufacturers assure that the occupants of self-driving cars will be safe.

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 destination.

The 12 Safety Elements outlined in the voluntary safety self-assessments would answer those questions. It would go a long way to addressing the public’s questions, as well as helping State and local decision-makers.

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 self-assessments. 

While not required, these are highly encouraged to make the case for these emerging technologies that offer so much potential for a new era of transportation innovation and safety. And companies agree and tell us that they are working them. 

America has a legacy of this creativity and innovation. It is one of our great hallmarks, but we must nurture and preserve it, while remaining a global leader in autonomous technology.

While self-assessments can help build public confidence on the safety assurance of automated driving systems, they may also provide insights to infrastructure experts into how they could be most helpful in expanding the availability of services in their communities. Transparency tends to bring additional benefits. 

In addition, as testing and deployment of Automated Driving Systems grow, NHTSA has been working with SAE International on an expedited effort to develop uniform ADS-crash data elements, which will also help support public acceptance efforts. 

Related to this, the Agency has begun work with public safety officials to understand their issues and concerns as it relates to the technology and will offer support and resources as necessary to address such. 

In anticipation of further 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.

I know that folks are interested in the transportation safety spectrum.

The Department 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 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 impacted in 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 know we have a lot roadway infrastructure folks in the audience…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, I also want to note that we remain technology neutral relative to communication protocols. 

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. For example, the Department is currently working with Ford as they begin testing prototype C-V2X devices. This work is being done at the Department of Defense’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds, another example of how we are partnering across Federal departments to find the facts. 

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.

For the longest time, we at NHTSA focused on the vehicle, but as technology is introduced into infrastructure and wireless communications and introduced into vehicles, the lines have gradually become blurry. That’s why we work as one DOT, across modal agencies.

With advanced technologies, there are newer ways to collect data and better understand structurally where crash problems are concentrated so that industry can develop more capable systems, and infrastructure operators can find data-driven methods to manage their risks.

Let me give you an example of a project we are pursuing: partnering with camera-based crash warning system providers and local transit agencies. 

Simply put, local transit vehicles are putting cameras around their transit buses and getting an immediate return on investment from warnings provided to drivers of vulnerable users and other vehicles in blind spots.

They also collect a lot of video and other data from each instance. 

We are interested in mining them further, linking them to other databases, and extracting more insights. 

The Department’s Volpe Center is developing an automation-assisted method for us to learn from trends in warning locations and frequencies that are obtained from hundreds of transit vehicles equipped with surround-camera systems. 

These systems can help us understand scenarios and locations, help improve benefits estimates from vehicle technologies, and also help us understand where and how pedestrians and other road users pose challenges to driving. 

Automation approaches not only hold the promise for a safer traffic environment, but also present opportunities in capturing and systematically analyzing volumes of data, enabling synergistic collaborations to improve both infrastructure-based and vehicle-resident technologies.

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, 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. 

The 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 am pleased to have participated 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.

I know many of you are working on infrastructure.

The Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations Act provides more than $10 billion in new transportation investments — that’s a significant investment on funding the President’s infrastructure improvement goals. 

Some highlights of the Act include: 

More Highway Formula Funds: +$2 billion in increased Federal Highway Formula funding that will enable States to expand the number of highway projects underway. 

Focus on Federal Lands: +$300 million dedicated specifically to support Federal Lands and Tribal highway projects. 

Focus on Bridge Improvements: +$225 million to address needed improvements and deficiencies with bridges. 

Airport Improvements: +$1 billion for high-priority airport construction projects with an emphasis on improvements at small and rural airports. 

Transit Infrastructure Grants: +$834 million for a new grant program focused on additional Bus and Bus Facilities and State-of-Good repair grants. 

Capital Investment Grants: +$232 million (above FY 17 enacted) for grants supporting fixed guide-way construction and improvements. 

BUILD: +$1 billion for the BUILD program — formerly TIGER — tripling the funding provided for this flexible grant program focused on innovative projects that have significant local, or regional impact. 

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.

Our excitement over the potential of automated vehicle technology is tremendous but it is also cautious. 

How we move forward together, and specifically how honest and transparent we are 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 computing, radar, and sensors that might enable a truly self-driving car or truck.

It’s easy to get caught up in our enthusiasm. It’s easy to get lost in the technical aspects of the work. It’s easy to lose sight of our goal in drafting guidance, regulation, and policy — but the bottom line is people. Does the technology improve 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.