Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: Autonomous Car Detroit conference

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 | Dearborn, Michigan

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Dearborn, Michigan
As Prepared for Delivery

Martin Kahl, thank you for your introduction, and thank you to Automotive World for bringing together such an impressive collection of speakers and participants to discuss the future of America’s roads and vehicles.

It is a pleasure to be with you today to share some thoughts about that future, and the work we are doing at U.S. DOT and NHTSA on autonomous vehicles. You have spent the day discussing many of the same topics that we work on every day – cybersecurity, the hardware and software solutions to the problems autonomous driving presents, the safety potential of autonomous vehicles. And if you have paid attention to the news lately, you know that DOT and NHTSA are using all the tools we have available to advance what we see as a revolution in technology.

If you’ve seen the coverage of what we’re up to, it should be no surprise to hear that our goal is to hasten this revolution. But if any doubts remain about our enthusiasm, let me quote Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in January, not far from here at the North American International Auto Show: “In 2016, we are going to do everything we can to advance safe, smart and sustainable transportation innovations. We are bullish on automated vehicles.”

I want to outline the activities that NHTSA has underway to implement the Secretary’s vision. But first let me tell you why we are so bullish on these innovations.

There are clearly potential social benefits from automated vehicles. The average American spends about 25 minutes commuting to work, according to the 2010 Census; millions of Americans spend 45 minutes or more in the car every morning.

Connected, automated vehicles could turn that from frustrating wasted time to productive moments. Technology holds the promise of turning the often chaotic freeways of Drive Time America into smooth, efficient operations. They may have environmental benefits. And they promise new mobility options to those who have missed out on the benefits of a century of automotive history, including people with disabilities, elderly drivers, and groups at an economic disadvantage.

These are all important benefits worthy of pursuit. But for DOT and NHTSA, safety is our top priority. And so the biggest factor in our enthusiasm comes down to two numbers: 32,675, and 94.

The first is the number of lives lost on our roads in 2014. The second is the percentage of fatal crashes for which NHTSA estimates that the critical reason behind the crash is a human error or decision. So, America loses the equivalent of a 747 crash every week to road crashes. We lose the equivalent of the entire population of Jackson, Michigan, every year. And in more than nine out of 10 fatal crashes, it is error-prone humanity that plays the critical role.

That, is the promise of automation. That is why we will spend the next year using all the tools available to us to encourage the development of life-saving technology innovations and to make sure we maximize their safety potential.

Now, much of the focus in this area surrounds fully automated vehicles, and NHTSA is fully engaged on those issues. But let me spend a moment on crash-avoidance technologies that are on the roads today, and in growing numbers.

Last year, NHTSA announced major changes to our 5-Star Safety Ratings. For the first time, vehicles will be rated not only on how well they protect occupants in a crash, but also on how well they prevent crashes in the first place.

These changes use one of our most powerful tools – simply providing information to new car buyers – to speed the pace at which life-saving crash avoidance technologies gain in the marketplace.

We’re also working to bring connected-vehicle safety technologies to the roads. Later this year we anticipate issuing a proposed rule to require vehicle-to-vehicle capabilities in new vehicles. V2V and V2I advances will be key enablers of fully automated vehicles, but their introduction will have benefits on their own. DOT’s pilot deployment in Ann Arbor demonstrated the value of V2V – we estimate that just two applications of this capability could prevent more than 600,000 crashes and save 1,000 lives a year.

’re also working to speed adoption of individual life-saving technologies. NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are working with industry to make automatic emergency braking a standard feature on new vehicles. IIHS research shows that AEB could reduce rear-end crashes causing injury by more than 40 percent.p>

These are important efforts in pursuit of NHTSA’s safety mission, and we believe they can have rapid, measurable benefits for safety. But while we work toward near-term improvements, we want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the long term, and we have not. Secretary Foxx’s announcement in January at the auto show here laid out five main lines of effort in pursuit of revolutionary change

The first is President Obama’s proposal for a 10-year, $3.9 billion investment in automated safety technologies. We are working with Congress to ensure that the nation can make this investment, which will fund a number of key initiatives. It will enable large-scale pilot deployments around the country to generate safety data and help America’s communities prepare for automated vehicles and derive maximum benefit from them. It will fund additional research into automation technologies and cybersecurity. And it will support NHTSA’s work in the other four lines of effort the Secretary outlined in January.

The first is using NHTSA’s existing authorities to issue regulatory interpretations and exemptions to enable safety innovation.

You have already seen NHTSA issue interpretations to Google, BMW and General Motors in this area, and our authority to issue limited exemptions from federal safety standards in the pursuit of safety innovation can be a powerful tool for enabling innovation.

The second is our work to issue operational guidance for the safe deployment of automated vehicles. This guidance will provide manufacturers and other stakeholders with guidelines for how NHTSA expects safe automated vehicles to behave in a variety of conditions. We expect it will outline how data should be collected on the crash-avoidance capabilities of automated vehicles, and to include guidance not only on passenger vehicles, but on those designed for cargo.

Last week, NHTSA announced that we will hold two public meetings, one in Washington and one in California, to gather input as we prepare this operational guidance, and we are eager to hear from the public and you about how we can provide the best possible guidance to ensure safe deployment and maximize safety potential.

Our third effort is ongoing work with states and with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to develop model state policy on automated vehicles. Our goal here is to respond to the many states that have reached out to NHTSA for guidance in this area, and to help them develop policies that mesh with policies in their neighbor states and policy we at the federal level are developing, so that we can have a uniform nationwide framework to help enable innovation.

And fourth, we’re working to develop a plan for what new tools and authorities we might need to fulfill our safety mission in this new era. We recognize that the careful, complex, far-from-rapid processes of formal regulation aren’t necessarily a great match for fast-moving technology advances. And so we’re working to develop the framework we think can best align NHTSA’s tools and authorities with the future that offers such great safety potential.

Our goal in all these efforts is a nimble, flexible framework that allows NHTSA to keep pace with the breathtaking pace of transformation, the most significant technology leap in more than a century of automotive history.

The first of these efforts – engaging our existing tools for interpretations and exemptions – is already in operation. The other three – the operational guidance, model state policy and plan for new tools and authorities – Secretary Foxx asked us to provide within six months of the January announcement.

So, we have a lot to do, and not much time to do it. But you may have seen last week that we released a research report that helps make clear why NHTSA is working so quickly on these fronts.

Last Spring, during a visit to Silicon Valley, Secretary Foxx asked NHTSA to examine its regulatory framework to determine where there might be obstacles to deployment of safety-enhancing technologies.

With the help of DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, NHTSA turned to DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. Volpe responded with a report that delineates clearly for us the challenges as we seek to enable and encourage safety innovation.

The report looked at NHTSA’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the set of regulations that sets the baseline for vehicle safety on the roads. Any manufacturer seeking to produce vehicles for American drivers must certify that its vehicles comply with the FMVSS. And, for decades, the evolution of these standards has been a crucial driver in the safety advances that have protected lives on our roads.

But these standards, valuable as they are, were written for another era – an era in which it was assumed that any motor vehicle had a human driver at the controls. Developed through the federal rulemaking process, these standards are, by design, not easy to change. And that presents some challenges for the emerging revolution in safety technology.

Volpe’s report is comprehensive and authoritative, and I recommend giving it a full read, especially if you work daily in the world of automated technologies. But there were two insights that drew our attention.

The first is that, for traditional vehicle designs – those with the driver controls and cabin designs we all grew up with – there are relatively few obstacles within the FMVSS to fully automated driving.

This may surprise some who thought federal regulation was likely to be a high hurdle to deployment of self-driving vehicles, but it closely matches NHTSA’s own analysis of the regulatory universe.

The second key observation is that nontraditional vehicle designs – those conceived for an era in which a human driver is no longer a starting assumption – may find some major obstacles to deployment from within the FMVSS. This, too, was not terribly surprising to NHTSA, but it is extraordinarily helpful to NHTSA to have Volpe’s careful and detailed third-party analysis as a roadmap for our future activities.

For us at NHTSA, the Volpe report is a vivid illustration of why we need to undertake the activities I’ve described today.

First, we know that in some configurations, fully self-driving vehicles are perhaps not so far off as some might think. That makes it essential for us to work rapidly to provide operational guidance for their safe operation, and to provide model state policies to help our partners in the states navigate this new era. Second, the regulatory obstacles to nontraditional designs must be a consideration for NHTSA as we determine the new tools and authorities we may need. Put simply, DOT’s vision for this new era is that innovations that can make the roads safer should be enabled and encouraged, and if there are barriers within our current regulations to meeting that goal, we need to identify and address them. And we will.

So there should be little doubt that DOT and NHTSA are, indeed, bullish on automated vehicles. Let me end with some encouragement for all of you, and particularly those of you in industry, to help us in our task.

As I mentioned, NHTSA will hold public information meetings beginning in April to help us develop operational guidance for automated vehicles. We need you to provide your expertise as we develop this guidance. Please participate in this process – your experience and insights will be valuable contributions to our work.

Also please keep in mind that we mean what we say when we encourage industry to look for ways that our existing interpretation and exemption authorities can enable safety innovations.

The use of these authorities will be a key near-term bridge to the longer-term path that may involve new tools and authorities. If an interpretation or exemption can help you and your company achieve safety benefits for the American public we want to hear about it.

The last encouragement I’ll make is that when you come talk to NHTSA, whether it’s to offer suggestions for our operational guidance, to seek an interpretation or an exemption, or to offer other thoughts on policy, two requests: put safety first, and bring the data. Remember those numbers I mentioned at the beginning. Our target in all these efforts is saving more of the far-too-many lives lost on our roads. Safety is our North Star. And as always, our efforts will be guided by data clearly establishing safety benefits.

We are rapidly accelerating into a new era of automotive safety. For more than a century, safety professionals have begun with the assumption that cars would crash, and focused their efforts on reducing the damage. Today, we can see a new possibility – the possibility that we can prevent those crashes from ever occurring. NHTSA is determined to help this revolution forward, and we will sprint to the end of 2016 to meet our goal.

Thank you.