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American ShipperShippingTrade and Compliance

Chao expresses support for automated vehicle technology

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao touted the benefits of automated vehicle technology at a DOT event earlier this week, but noted that the primary obstacle to the deployment of driverless cars and trucks is a current lack of public acceptance.

   U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao discussed the benefits of automated vehicle technology Monday in Detroit at the 25th Annual International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles.
   Human error is the cause of 94 percent of vehicle crashes, and automated vehicle systems could save tens of thousands of lives by addressing the human factors that cause these accidents, Chao explained, according to a transcript of her remarks.
   Despite progress in life-saving automotive technology over the last four decades and several years of declining highway fatalities, these numbers are beginning to rise again.
   In 2015, 35,092 people lost their lives on highways, up more than 7 percent from 2014, with:
     • Over 10,000 of the fatalities involving drinking and driving;
     • 10,000 of the fatalities involving drivers and passengers who refused to buckle up;
     • 10,000 of the fatalities involving speeding as a key factor;
     • 2,000 of the fatalities involving motorcyclists who did not wear helmets;
     • And 3,000 of the fatalities involving distracted drivers.
   In addition to safety, automated vehicle technology could result in American motorists wasting less time and money spent on fuel, Chao said.
   Each year, American drivers spend over 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. This amounts to over $300 billion in wasted time and fuel.
   Automated vehicle technology could also give traditionally underserved communities greater access to transportation, including senior citizens and people with disabilities, Chao explained.
   The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a vital role to play by ensuring the safe development, testing, and deployment of automated vehicle technologies, she said. The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy in September 2016, which it said lays a path for the safe testing and deployment of new automotive technologies.
   The DOT is reviewing and updating this policy to incorporate feedback and improvements recommended by various stakeholders, Chao said.
   “The new automated vehicle guidance will replace the previous document and will be released in the next few months, if not sooner,” she said.
    But recent polls have shown the primary obstacle to the deployment of automated vehicles is the lack of public acceptance.
   Looking ahead, Chao said it is “critical that Silicon Valley and other innovators step up and share with the public their understanding of this new technology, and address legitimate public concerns about safety and privacy.”
   In addition, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled “Paving the Way for Self-Driving Vehicles” next Wednesday to explore automated vehicle technology and hurdles for testing and deployment in the United States. “The hearing will also examine state and federal roles to ensure safety while promoting innovation and American competitiveness,” according to a press release from the Senate committee.
    To learn more about the benefits of and challenges to the development and deployment of automated vehicle technology, see the American Shipper June feature story “The digital driver”.