Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators International Conference

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | Des Moines

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mark, for your introduction. And thank you AAMVA for inviting me to speak to you today.

It’s great to be with you, and great to be here in Des Moines, where I may be the only visitor from Washington, D.C., not running for president.

NHTSA is on a different sort of campaign, one involving a long partnership with all of you and your states. I’d like to spend our time today telling you a little bit about how NHTSA is approaching our safety mission, the role state motor vehicle administrators play in safety, and two relatively new ways in which I hope the partnership between NHTSA and your agencies can grow.

NHTSA and the states have had long productive history. Each year, NHTSA provides hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to your colleagues in state highway safety offices across the country, providing funding for enforcement, data collection, safety messaging and a host of other programs.

And along with those important grant programs, our relationships with your agencies and departments are crucial. We work together on medical review guidelines, driver license issues, driver training and more. AAMVA, NHTSA and the states continue to work together through the National Driver Register Working Group to improve licensing practices across the country.

NHTSA is very interested in exploring the highway safety potential of the State-to-State pilot project, which would develop ways to share information among the states so that problem drivers can’t hop from state to state to avoid the consequences of their unsafe behavior. Together, we are helping ensure that drivers who want to drive safely have the information, training and support they need, and that they are protected from those who aren’t interested in driving safely.

Our work with AAMVA to promote safe behavior behind the wheel is important because of two numbers that we mention constantly at NHTSA. The first: 32,719, the number of Americans who died in crashes in 2013.

The second: 94. That’s the percentage of fatal crashes in which the critical reason – the final factor in the chain of failures that leads to a crash – can be traced to human behavior. We cannot reduce that first number without acknowledging the second and reducing the role of human error in traffic crashes on our roads. That makes it an essential part of our life-saving work to partner with AAMVA and state motor vehicle agencies to reduce unsafe behavior by drivers.

In fact, there are two important developments in our partnership that will help us meet our goal of safer cars and safer drivers on American roads.

First, as you may have noticed, NHTSA is in the news these days not for our behavioral safety efforts, but for our role in identifying and addressing safety defects in vehicles. While vehicle defects play a relatively small role in highway safety risk (2%), getting defective vehicles off the road is a core responsibility for NHTSA. The first job Americans expect and demand of us is to make sure that they and their families are not at risk because of a manufacturer’s poor work or poor design.

NHTSA is engaged in a top-to-bottom effort to improve our processes for identifying and addressing defects. We have identified 45 separate improvements that will help us more effectively monitor the 265 million vehicles on our roads and act when a safety risk emerges.

But identifying defects is only part of the process. Until vehicle owners take their car or truck to get the repairs they need to address defects, the risk remains – risk to that owner, their family, and everyone who shares the road with that vehicle. Improving the rate at which owners get defects repaired is a high priority for NHTSA.

Earlier this year, we held a day-long symposium at DOT headquarters in which Secretary Foxx and NHTSA challenged the auto industry, safety advocates and ourselves to do better. NHTSA is pressing automakers to direct the same marketing muscle they used to sell cars at the tough task of encouraging their customers to repair defects to their cars.

And we’re focusing our own communications efforts on increasing awareness among consumers.

But this is a tough task, and that’s especially true of recalls involving older vehicles, with second or third owners who may not receive a recall notice until long after buying a used vehicle. We think this could be an area for more fruitful partnership with you. That’s why Secretary Foxx included a pilot program for state notifications in the GROW AMERICA Act, the department’s comprehensive transportation proposal. This pilot program would provide funding for one or two states to explore systems to notify owners of open safety recalls when they register their vehicle with the state.

Some states have expressed an interest in participating, and we’re encouraged that the Senate included this pilot program in the transportation bill it passed last month. If enacted, NHTSA looks forward to working with state partners to determine whether this is another area where we can work together to save lives.

Already we are working together in another area with great life-saving potential: automated and connected vehicles on our roads. When I came to NHTSA, I identified technology innovations as a top priority. Working for Secretary Foxx, it can’t be any other way – the secretary is intensely focused on the potential for new technologies to revolutionize transportation, and transportation safety, in all modes of travel.

That second number I mentioned earlier – 94 percent – means new technologies have enormous potential to protect us from our biggest safety risk: our own bad driving habits.

But even as this new era of innovation has potential to revolutionize safety, we also recognize it presents challenges. That goes for DOT, for NHTSA and for the states, where all of you will have to contend with how these new technologies blur the distinction between a vehicle and its driver. Earlier this year, Secretary Foxx announced a series of steps to help these innovations achieve their life-saving potential. Among them was a direction to NHTSA to examine our own regulatory structures, and determine whether changes were necessary to ensure that we were accelerating, rather than hindering, innovations that contribute to safety.

To fulfill that task, NHTSA has established a internal working group of experts from across the agency to look at how we can best encourage innovations with demonstrated safety value. Among the issues that group is examining is how best to coordinate efforts with the states so that your agencies can continue to fulfill your safety obligations. At the same time, we’re engaged in a series of research efforts designed to provide the factual information that will inform both your efforts and ours. We need to better understand how to ensure human drivers remain attentive in vehicles that are highly, but not fully, automated; how to safely put the driver “back in the loop” when their attention is required; and how increasing automation will change driver education needs.

We outlined these and other areas of research focus in a letter to the California Department of Motor Vehicles earlier this year.

Both these efforts – the research areas I’ve outlined, and our agency team’s examination of how to best address the tough issues automation presents for state regulators – will yield important insights as to how NHTSA and your own agencies can help move safety forward. There is a lot of pressure on all of us to act quickly – I feel it in Washington, and I’m sure many of you have felt it too. But, as fast as these technologies are moving forward, there is still much we need to understand before we can make the best decisions for safety.

This new era of innovation will make NHTSA’s relationship with state motor vehicle agencies as important as it has ever been. Thankfully, we have a strong foundation on which to meet these challenges. That foundation is our shared commitment to safety – as long as we keep the goal of saving lives and preventing injuries as our top priority, we can help bring about what the secretary has called “an era when vehicle safety isn’t just about surviving crashes; it’s about avoiding them.”

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today and for your service to your states and our nation.