Wednesday, April 27, 2016 | Stanford, California
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you all for being here today.
This is our second public meeting as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration develops guidelines for the safe deployment of automated safety technology.
There is one very important reason driving our work, and that reason is 32,675. That’s how many people died on America’s roadways in 2014. And we know the numbers in 2015 will be even higher.
That’s not just a number. That’s how many families lost a loved one, how many friends we lost.
In the United States, we lose the equivalent of a fully loaded 747 crashing every single week due to roadway fatalities.
So why am I sharing this data with you? After all, we’re here to discuss autonomous vehicles, not crash data, right?
Wrong. These numbers are exactly the reason we are here today.
And that is the promise of automation, and it is why we are aggressively looking for new technologies that could help save lives.
At NHTSA, our first — and really our only — concern is safety.
I believe that too often we talk about a tension, or striking a balance, between safety and innovation, as if there is a trade-off between the two.
It is true that there are real and significant questions about the safety of new technology. At the same time that new technology is bringing safety advancements, it can also create new vulnerabilities and risks.
That is why we are taking a deliberative approach, making sure we get the safety advancements we know work on the road, while also making sure that new automated technology is safe.
But I would challenge us to think about this not as seeking a balance between safety and innovation as on the opposite sides of a spectrum. Instead, we are focused on promoting safety innovation, aligning our actions and priorities around what will do the most to save the most number of lives.
The Department of Transportation, under the leadership of Secretary Foxx, is leaning forward on automated vehicles. I’ll take a moment now to explain what NHTSA is doing on automated vehicle policy development, and how today’s meeting fits in.
In January, Secretary Foxx announced the Department’s strategy on autonomous vehicles. That strategy has five main elements:
First: President Obama has proposed a 10-year, $3.9 billion investment in automated safety technologies. That investment will enable a number of key initiatives, from funding large-scale pilot deployments around the country and funding additional research into automation technologies and cybersecurity
Second: NHTSA is using its existing authorities to issue regulatory interpretations and exemptions to enable safety innovation.
Third: NHTSA is developing 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.
Fourth: NHTSA is working with partners 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.
Fifth, and finally: we are working to develop a plan for what new tools and authorities we might need to fulfill our safety mission in this new era.
That brings us to today.
At NHTSA, we are seeking to engage as many stakeholders as we can to get their ideas and expertise as we build these policies.
Our goal is to build operational guidance, and we’re looking for your help to do so.
There is one question that deserves special consideration as we hear the discussion today.
In this new era, what are the metrics by which we will measure the safety value and roadworthiness of new technologies?
The old model — of counting vehicle miles traveled, of counting crashes and injuries — is not sufficient for adequately understanding these new technologies.
This is a question that we are asking all stakeholders. And let’s be honest, it’s not an easy question to answer. But it will be critical to understand as we are developing new ways to assess new technologies, and analyze their life-saving potential.
There is one more question that I have heard a lot, and it’s one I can answer.
That question is why now? Why is the Department of Transportation pressing ahead so deliberately on automated vehicle technology policies, when a lot of people say the technology is not ready for the road.
But here’s the answer: the technology is already on the road. Safety technologies like automatic emergency braking, lane-assist and adaptive cruise control are already in the cars that many of you drove in here today. Higher levels of automated vehicle technology are being tested on U.S. roads as we speak.
The Department of Transportation is absolutely leaning forward on this technology, because we want to promote the innovations that will help save lives, and we want to make sure that we have effective ways of measuring and monitoring the technologies that are changing the way Americans drive today.
This public meeting is one opportunity to hear from a range of people who bring unique perspectives on these issues.
We held our first meeting a couple of weeks ago in Washington, DC. We heard from a broad array of stakeholders, whose insights are already proving useful in our ongoing process.
We are here to listen, and we look forward to continuing this discussion in the days and weeks to come.
Before we get to it, there is one more statistic that I would like to leave you with:
613,501. That’s the number of lives that have been saved because of vehicle safety advancements in the last 50 years.
That includes seatbelts and air bags, and other safety technology innovations that we know work.
Technology has a proven track record of saving lives. We may be on the cusp of a safety innovation revolution.
How many more lives could be saved? We are excited to find out the answer.