Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: Symposium on Self-Driving Cars

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Thursday, October 8, 2015 | Washington, D.C.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Embassy of Sweden / Washington, D.C.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery

Brian Cooley, thanks for the introduction and for moderating today. Ambassador Lyrvall, thank you for all the work that you do to strengthen relations between our nations, on matters automotive and on the many other interests we share. And thank you very much for hosting this event, another indication of Sweden’s dedication to pursuing a new era of automotive safety.

I’m eager to hear from Mr. Samuelsson on Volvo’s view of this fast-approaching era, and I know the panel discussion to follow will be insightful. For a few minutes, let me describe how the U.S. Department of Transportation, under Secretary Foxx, and we at NHTSA view the coming transformation in vehicle technology and our efforts to accelerate that transformation.

We are already in an era of transformation in which safety efforts are no longer built on the grim assumption that there will be crashes, and helping people survive them. Now vehicles are being designed to ensure that the crash, once a foregone conclusion, never happens at all.

This transformation represents an extraordinary change that will affect nearly every aspect of highway transportation. And it’s not just science fiction. It’s here, now. Automated systems such as lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking, as well as connected-vehicle technologies led by vehicle-to-vehicle communications – will save lives, prevent crashes, and reduce the tragic annual toll that we have accepted for the last century of automotive history.

However, if we are going to fully realize the lifesaving potential of what lies ahead, I believe this era of technology innovation must occur alongside another transformation.

The last two years have made clear that despite the promise of this new era of safety innovation, and despite the fact that vehicles are safer today than they have ever been, the auto industry has significant safety challenges.

There is no need to rewind all the bad news – admissions of failure to meet the requirements of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act; failures to report required safety data; record civil penalties and criminal fines; the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history; admissions of cheating on emissions tests. Each of these actions has progressively weakened public confidence in the auto industry’s concern for driver and public safety and health.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Over my remaining months as Administrator, I am committed to advocating for, and supporting, a transformation that goes beyond technology to philosophy – one that embraces a proactive safety culture. I believe the technological transformation and the philosophical transformation are both essential, and that neither will reach its full potential unless we realize the other.

I will continue to urge this industry to embrace a proactive, forward-looking safety culture, to fully embrace the responsibility that comes from knowing that the highest-risk activity most people will undertake each day happens in its products. 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 R&D labs to the factory floor to the C-suite. A proactive safety culture means safety isn’t the responsibility of a particular office or a division – it is the responsibility of every single individual.

And a proactive safety culture means a dedication to developing safety innovations not just as a marketplace advantage or an enticement for high-end customers, but as a vital part of the industry’s safety commitment to all of its customers.

Under Secretary Foxx’s direction, the Department of Transportation and NHTSA have made accelerating the technological transformation a top priority.

That means accelerating our work on vehicle-to-vehicle communications, reviewing our regulatory framework to identify and address any provisions that could slow this transformation, establishing a vehicle innovation team that is looking broadly at opportunities to speed this transformation, considering what role the states can play; and having NHTSA help lead the automation discussion on areas beyond technology such as law, insurance, even ethics.

Our aim is pretty simple: If a technology innovation can reduce the death and injury on America’s roads, we aren’t just for it, we’re for it right now.

The Department of Transportation and NHTSA are fully committed to the era of crash avoidance through automated, connected vehicles.

The great safety potential for these advances lies in their ability to account for our human flaws behind the wheel. Impaired, distracted, drowsy, inattentive, too fast, too reckless – too often, 94 percent of the time in fact, fatal crashes can be attributed to a driver’s decision. The technologies now under development in Detroit, in Gothenburg, in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere can help account for those decisions.

This represents an awesome responsibility for manufacturers as the wheel is taken out of the driver’s hands, and put in the hands of software engineers, system engineers, scientists and designers and human-factors experts.

One area that needs immediate, tangible actions is cybersecurity. Failure to tackle the cybersecurity challenge would threaten the technology-driven safety transformation we all want to achieve. If drivers believe they are one virus away from a hacker taking control of their vehicle, they are not about to hand over the driving task to that vehicle’s automated systems.

There are tremendous opportunities in this realm for proactive steps. In fact, such steps are essential. Regulation and enforcement alone will not be sufficient to address these risks – cybersecurity threats simply move too fast for regulation to be the only answer. The industry can play an essential role by cooperatively establishing rigorous best practices that address the broad range of cyber threats; by reacting quickly and aggressively when such threats emerge; and by working closely with government and independent security analysts to identify and defeat attacks. The decision to establish the ISAC, which is expected to be in operation by the end of this year, is one important proactive step, and NHTSA is ready to work with industry to take others.

Another area where these technological and cultural transformations can work together is in pushing safety innovations beyond luxury model lines. One of Secretary Foxx’s top priorities is recognizing, across modes, the role transportation plays in creating ladders of economic opportunity. For NHTSA, this means that as enthusiastic supporters of innovative safety technologies, we want to see them implemented as quickly as possible and throughout the entire fleet.

The technology revolution can only meet its full potential if it moves beyond the most expensive models or pricey option packages. Safety should not be a luxury item. Wide availability of these innovations will save more lives more quickly, and it will ensure that industry and consumers view safety not as a luxury, but as an obligation for all of us – those who make the cars and those who drive the cars.

The recent announcement NHTSA made with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was an important milestone in our efforts. Encouraged by NHTSA and IIHS, ten manufacturers committed to the principle that automatic emergency braking should be a standard feature on their new vehicles. This is a powerful statement by companies that account for more than half of U.S. auto sales about the need to broadly share the benefits of this life-saving innovation.

NHTSA and IIHS are engaged with those manufacturers on the details of implementing that commitment – including Volvo, and I’d like to thank Mr. Samuelsson for Volvo’s participation. We are eager for other manufacturers to join in the commitment. And we see this proactive step for safety as a potential model for other cooperative efforts to bring about rapid change for safety.

This is a remarkable time to be involved in vehicle safety. In many ways, the car hasn’t changed as much in the entire last century as it’s about to change in the next few years. And that change, that safety revolution driven by technology can be accompanied – must be accompanied – by a parallel transformation in culture. These critical transformations will change lives – they will save lives

And NHTSA is eager to work with the leaders of this global industry to create this future together.

Thank you.