Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 | College Station, Texas

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
College Station, Texas
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for the opportunity to join you today.

In my role as Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I speak to a lot of groups.

Oftentimes, I am out talking to people trying to convince them of the importance of highway safety.

But I have been looking forward to today, because today I know that I am with folks who don’t need to be convinced.

The people in this room are the people working every day to make our roads safer.

So before anything else, I just want to take a moment to say thank you.

The work you do to save lives can too often go unrecognized. In part that’s because we may never know the names of the people whose lives you save through your work. There are no headlines when people don’t die on our roads.

But to the kid whose mom gets home safely, to the family of the police officer who finishes their shift safely, and to the person who crosses the road safely because a drunk driver was kept off the road, your work matters a great deal.

And yet we have a lot more work to do.

I’ll start with a number: 32,675. That’s how many people lost their lives on our roads and highways in 2014.

But that’s not just a number. Every one of those people is a son or daughter, a wife or a husband, a colleague, a friend.

We lose the equivalent of a 747 crashing every week on our roadways.

And our early estimates show that in 2015, the problem has gotten worse.

So where should we be?

In my opinion, the only acceptable goal is zero.

Zero may be a small number, but it is a big figure in traffic safety. If we’re serious about traffic safety, we need to be serious about getting to zero.

We know that there has been success with what we have done over the last many decades. But we also know that we can’t just keep doing more of the same and expect a different result.

We need to do more of the same and we need to try new things.

But I don’t need to tell you that. The folks here are already road-testing new strategies.

Take the Teens in the Driver Seat Project, developed here at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. It’s the first peer-to-peer program for teens that focuses solely on traffic safety, and it’s a model for what can be done across the country.

NHTSA is working aggressively on roadway safety in three areas. I will take a few minutes to describe each of them.

Proactive Vehicle Safety

The first area is Proactive Vehicle Safety.

Vehicle safety is a huge component of NHTSA’s mission. But for a long time, our focus has been almost entirely reactive. We wait until a problem becomes apparent, we investigate it, and then we recall vehicles.

That’s an important safety tool, and we won’t let up the gas on our enforcement. But we also would far prefer avoiding vehicle problems in the first place.

To that end, earlier this year we announced the adoption of Proactive Safety Principles with 18 automakers.

This historic agreement is on a set of broad-ranging actions to help make our roads safer and help avoid the sort of safety crisis that generates the wrong kind of record-setting and headlines.

The commitments will help catch safety defects before they explode into massive recalls. They will help improve the quality of data that automakers and NHTSA analyze to identify defects today, and they will find ways to generate better data in the future.

This is a new thing for the auto industry, and it wasn’t easy to even get them in the room together to talk.

But this approach is already yielding results, and we are excited about the future potential.

Advanced Safety Technologies

The second area we are working on is Advanced Safety Technologies.

At NHTSA, we are embracing the potential of automated vehicle technologies that could have massive life-saving potential.

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 to 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.

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. The way we should be thinking about it is as promoting safety innovation.

This safety technology ranges from what some see as the holy grail—fully self-driving cars, which eliminate the potential for human error—to individual technologies like automatic emergency braking.

At NHTSA, we’re excited about the potential of these safety technologies, in part because we know the potential for technology to save lives.

A study we did showed that over 50 years, basic safety technologies — like seatbelts and air bags — have saved 613,501 lives.

Technology has a proven track record of saving lives. With advanced safety technologies, we may be on the cusp of a safety innovation revolution.

How many more lives could be saved by new tech? We are excited to find out the answer.

Human Choices

The final area of our work is on Human Choices.

While advanced safety technologies will play an important role in reducing the impact of poor human choices or errors, we can’t wait until that technology is here.

We know that a driver choice or error can be tied to the cause of 94 percent of crashes. Too often, that’s a driver who gets behind the wheel after drinking and puts themselves and others at risk.

If we’re going to get to zero, we need to put a huge amount of energy and focus onto that 94 percent.

Campaigns like Driver Sober or Get Pulled Over and Click It or Ticket, have had significant success, and yet we know drunk driving is still a terrible problem, and too many people are still driving without their seatbelts. What are the new strategies we can adopt to help people make the right choice?

Earlier this year we held a series of behavioral safety summits across the country to look for new solutions to problems like drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving.

This fall, we will convene a final summit to lay out a roadmap to deal with these challenges in a new comprehensive way, starting with zero and building our strategy to get us there.


As with so many things, in traffic safety, it takes a community.

Transportation touches every part of our lives. And so our solutions must come from everyone in our lives as well.

But I am confident that this future is possible because of the people in this room.

We have so many examples of amazing, dedicated people around this country who are making real differences in their communities.

These people and all of you are beacons, from whom we can learn a great deal.

Again, thank you for all of your efforts to save lives and prevent injuries and crashes on our roadways. Your work makes a difference!