Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: SAE Government-Industry Meeting keynote

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Wednesday, January 20, 2016 | Washington, D.C.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Washington, D.C.
As Prepared for Delivery


Reuben, thank you for that introduction, and thank you for your work in transforming the relationship between transportation and our planet, both at DOE and in your private-sector career.


And thank you all for joining us here today. You would think, after the events of the last week, that industry and government joining together to discuss the important issues in transportation is some kind of wild idea. The people who have been coming for years to this annual meeting know better. Whether it’s combating climate change or working to improve safety, if we can’t get in the same room and hash things out, we fail our mission and the people we serve. So thank you all for making this annual SAE Government-Industry Meeting so successful.

While this meeting and discussions like it have a long history, last week in Detroit, Secretary Foxx announced something more – a revolutionary step in vehicle safety. And I’ll discuss that more in a moment. But let me first discuss another topic that got plenty of attention in Detroit last week, and will again during this meeting: Fuel economy.

As you know, NHTSA is already working with our partners at EPA and in California to conduct the Midterm Review of light-duty fuel economy standards. For NHTSA, the end point of that review will be final fuel economy standards for model years 2022-2025. As you know, there is a detailed, prescribed path we must walk to get there.

The first step is a draft Technical Assessment Report, which we expect to complete by mid-year, this year, together with our partners at EPA and the California Air Resources Board. This report, which will be available for public comment, will assess the technical factors that are relevant to the 2022-2025 standards. With public comment on the TAR, we’ll move to the next phase, which for NHTSA is preparation of proposed standards, which after public comment would be finalized as soon as early 2018.

Industry concerns about this process are no great secret. The fear is that plunging fuel prices and soaring SUV sales make fuel economy gains unattainable, and that Washington doesn’t get it. That view is off target. Let me explain why.

First, the current, footprint-based standards are designed to accommodate changing economic conditions and consumer preferences. Manufacturers are not compelled to build vehicles of any particular size or type. If a manufacturer’s sales mix shifts, so does its fuel economy requirement.

Second, NHTSA staff will, by the time final standards are set, have spent thousands of hours meeting with stakeholders, including the industry’s technical experts, and poring over our own research, industry-provided data, and analysis from places like Argonne National Laboratory and the National Academy of Sciences. If you have followed the public discussion of the proposed heavy-duty fuel economy standards we proposed with EPA and CARB last year, you know that even those who disagree with aspects of the proposal have praised the agencies for extensive outreach and sound technical analysis.

NHTSA has robust mechanisms in place to ensure that when we meet our statutory requirements to establish the maximum feasible standards, we will do so after a process that considers all the relevant economic, technological and environmental data.

One last point to make on fuel economy: While the decline in oil prices stems from many factors, don’t discount the progress the industry has made on fuel economy as one of those factors.

Efficiency gains have, without question, affected the supply side of the supply-demand equation. And that trend will continue to work to the benefit of consumers: Late last year, OPEC’s annual World Oil Outlook projected that America’s demand for oil in road transportation will decline by 3.6 million barrels a day by 2040, thanks to increasing efficiency that is reducing fuel use even as miles traveled and fleet numbers rise. Consumers have already derived enormous financial as well as environmental and energy-security benefits from rising fuel economy, and we expect that to continue when the Midterm Review’s standards are in place.

That work would be plenty to keep NHTSA busy for the next couple years. But of course, fuel economy is but one section of our portfolio. I’d like to spend the rest of my time this morning talking about our safety work, including the announcements Secretary Foxx made last week in Detroit, why they were so important, and what NHTSA will do in the weeks and months ahead to implement them.

The word “historic” may be over-used, but I do not think it’s an overstatement when applied to the Secretary’s Thursday announcement on vehicle automation and his Friday unveiling of a proactive safety agreement with major auto manufacturers. As the Secretary said on Friday, we may look back years from now at this moment as the time when we joined together to change the way we all look at safety, for the better. And we’re going to spend the next year working to ensure that we don’t look back this moment as a missed opportunity.

At NHTSA, we begin this process with the understanding that change is hard, because at NHTSA, we have had our own experiences with the need for transformation. We know that acknowledging shortcomings is not an enjoyable experience, and that addressing them requires concentrated effort. And we know that organizational change takes time and commitment.

We have committed to making changes at NHTSA because the status quo clearly wasn’t good enough for the people we serve. And let me repeat something I said last week in Detroit: I am so proud of the work NHTSA’s men and women have done to accomplish not just what Congress, the media or the new administrator expected, but to go beyond those expectations.

There has been lots of talk in the last year about a tougher attitude and more aggressive enforcement at NHTSA. And no one should doubt that the President, Secretary Foxx or we at NHTSA will shy away from vigorous enforcement. The Secretary has asked for a more muscular NHTSA, and that is what we have provided. DOT and NHTSA have asked Congress to strengthen our enforcement tools, and Congress has responded with some important changes.

But if we stop there, if auto safety remains a cat-and-mouse game between regulator and regulated, then we are not doing our jobs. The era of Big Recall is not a sign of progress for us. Record civil penalties are not a metric of success. If we’re levying a big fine, it means there has been a safety crisis. Americans have been put at risk. Too often, it means American lives have been lost. And NHTSA’s job is to save those lives, every one of them. As Secretary Foxx said last week, “Real safety is finding and fixing defects before someone gets hurt, rather than just punishing after the damage is done.”

Success for NHTSA is a change in safety culture. It is building a culture that makes safety an essential element in every activity an organization undertakes. A proactive safety culture doesn’t avoid talk of problems. It certainly doesn’t conceal them. A proactive safety culture seeks out problems, rewards those who identify them, and addresses them aggressively. A proactive safety culture infuses every part of an organization, from the lab to the test track to the factory floor to the C-suite. A proactive safety culture means safety isn’t the responsibility of an office or a division – it is the responsibility of every single individual. A proactive safety culture means embracing the idea that customers will demand, should expect, and definitely deserve zero safety defects. And it means an industry, everyone from the engineers in the software labs to the sales managers at the dealership, that doesn’t just talk about safety but is willing to sacrifice other priorities in order to make its customers safer.

I hope, and I believe, that what I’m describing sounds familiar to many of you. And that is why many of the people in this room will be key players in the weeks and months to come as we seek to build on the historic first step we took last week.

The principles the secretary and major auto executives unveiled in Detroit cover for main areas:

First, building a proactive safety foundation

Second, improving reporting and analysis of data from the existing Early Warning Report system while looking for ways to improve that system;

Third, improving recall completion rates so that once we find a defect, we get it off the road;

And fourth, strengthening cybersecurity efforts.

Let me spend a minute on that last point, cybersecurity.

Those of you who participated in yesterday’s NHTSA-sponsored cybersecurity roundtable know the immense challenge, and importance, of vehicle cybersecurity. A strong commitment to addressing that challenge is what proactive safety is all about.

The agreement includes specific commitments on cybersecurity, a commitment to work more with independent cybersecurity researchers, a pledge to develop industry-wide cybersecurity best practices to protect vehicles and steps to strengthen the automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or ISAC, that began operation this month.

Cybersecurity is important not only in its own right, but also in ensuring that we get maximum safety benefit out of another effort that was in the spotlight last week in Detroit, our work to enable and accelerate the development of automation technologies that can reduce the role of human error in traffic deaths.

We all know one number at NHTSA: 32,675. It’s the number of Americans who lost their lives on the road in 2014. Early indications are that for the first time in a long time, the number for 2015 will be significantly higher. Now, our research shows that in 94 percent of fatal crashes, we can point to a human error or choice as the critical reason for the crash. Automation offers the promise of technological developments that can vastly reduce that toll.

But it will be no small challenge to earn the trust of the American people when it comes to vehicle automation. And that’s especially true of cybersecurity. If drivers believe they are one hack away from a crash, they are going to be much more reluctant to adopt these technologies, and we will not realize their full safety potential. So at the day-long roundtable we held yesterday we asked not for academic-level discussion, but for concrete actions we can take together, and soon.

And I believe the establishment of a joint NHTSA-industry working group on improving the quality of existing EWR data, and on potential improvements to get better data, can be especially fruitful.

But I want to close by discussing an idea that takes up just one bullet in the list of principles we announced last week. I want to focus on it, as Secretary Foxx did last week, because it has powerful potential to bring about the culture change we believe is essential going forward.

DOT, NHTSA and the manufacturers all committed to examining “the existing aviation industry voluntary/anonymous safety information reporting system to understand whether such an approach could be utilized in the auto sector.”

This was a big focus for us because the secretary, in his experience overseeing commercial aviation, and I in my experience at the NTSB and before that at NASA, have both spent lots of time exposed to the aviation community’s safety culture. Sharing operational data on what airplanes and aircrew are doing in our skies is fundamental to aviation safety. Programs such as Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing, or ASIAS, turn the wealth of data gathered by air carriers into anonymous datasets shared with the FAA and each other on a voluntary basis so that everyone in the industry can benefit from issues that one or a few carriers identify. In aviation, government-industry collaboration on identifying and addressing safety issues is a critical feature in a system that has achieved unprecedented levels of safety. And shame on us if we can’t join together to learn the lessons our colleagues in aviation have already proven effective.

Now, all of this won’t happen overnight. There are important differences between commercial aviation and roadway safety. Even if we’re all pulling in the same direction, culture change doesn’t happen overnight. And I have no doubt that there will be some inside the auto industry and outside for whom preserving the status quo is important.

But we are at a moment when there are also strong voices inside and outside the industry who believe we can and must do better. We are going to spend the next year amplifying those voices, putting them to work in the pursuit of a proactive safety culture, and taking actions to create a safety record that we can all be proud.

Thank you.