Since the confirmation of the new US Secretary of Transportation – Elaine Chao – last month, the autonomous vehicle industry has been watching for signs of the new administration’s thinking on driverless technologies.
On Sunday, Secretary Chao delivered a brief address to the National Governors Association in Washington, during which she shared some of her department’s initial thoughts on automated vehicles.
“The new automated technologies have the potential of dramatically changing commercial transportation and private travel, expanding access for millions within our borders,” said Chao.
In addition to their commercial applications, she said, “automated technologies can also help expand access to transportation for underserved populations, especially the elderly and the disabled.”
During her remarks, Chao highlighted the importance of the potential safety benefits offered by autonomous vehicles.
“Research shows that 94% of fatalities are due to human error – fatalities and crashes. So automated technology has the potential to help eliminate human error and reduce crashes and fatalities significantly,” said Chao. “There’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right.”
Notably, Chao indicated that the administration is likely to make changes to the federal automated vehicles policy set out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year.
“This is a set of guidelines, not a set of rules,” said Chao. “This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it to assure and ensure that it strikes the right balance.”
Improving public trust in driverless cars
As interest in driverless technologies grows, one particular hurdle for vehicle developers is the apparent lack of public trust in self-driving cars.
Chao urged the industry to do more to overcome this, saying that she wanted “to issue a challenge to Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technologies”.
“One of the biggest obstacles to deploying this technology is consumer acceptance,” added Chao.
“And as regulators and as public policy-makers, we need to work together to educate and address legitimate public concerns about safety and privacy.”