Remarks Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao For National Governors Association (NGA) “Infrastructure Spurring Innovation”

February 26, 2017

Thank you, Governor Hickenlooper and Governor Ducey. I am so pleased to join you and the other governors to discuss infrastructure and innovation.

I’m talking, of course, about the new automated technologies that have the potential to dramatically change commercial transportation and private travel, expanding access for millions. The private sector is driving these innovations, working with cities and states like yours to demonstrate the safety and efficiency of automated cars and trucks.


In addition to commercial applications, automated technology can help expand access to transportation for underserved populations, especially the elderly and disabled. I know Gov. Hickenlooper has ridden in a Corvette equipped with a system developed for Sam Schmidt, who was paralyzed in the racecar accident 15 years ago. And Governor Ducey has ridden in an automated vehicle, as well.


Automated technology, which includes autonomous or driverless vehicles, also has the potential to improve safety on our roads and highways, which is always a priority. 35,092 people died in traffic crashes in 2015, a seven percent increase over the previous year.  In the first nine months of 2016, fatalities increased again by eight percent over the previous year.  Research shows that 94 percent of crashes are due to human error.  Automated technology has the potential to help eliminate human error and reduce crashes and fatalities significantly.   So there’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right.


To promote research and development, the Department has so far approved ten applications for automated vehicle proving grounds. 64 applications were submitted, which shows the great level of interest. This is just one part of the national effort to deploy and test cutting-edge technologies in cities throughout the U.S.


Drones are another exciting emerging technology.  As you know, companies are testing numerous commercial applications for drones.  UPS is testing a delivery drone in Florida, for example. But drones also have a role to play in safeguarding our infrastructure.  Rail lines already use them for safety checks on equipment and tracks. They have been used in emergency response in the U.S. for more than a decade.  In Kentucky, firefighters are using drones with thermal cameras to fight fires, locate the lost, or help in disaster recovery efforts.


In the summer of 2015, a Fire Chief in Maine used his hobby drone to carry a life vest to a stranded child during a water rescue.  In Idaho, they are testing pilotless helicopters that can scoop up water and drop it on wildfires.  Drones can also inspect pipelines for leaks, protect first responders in accidents involving derailments and hazardous materials, and help save lives in many other emergency situations.


As I mentioned during my confirmation, the federal role in this emerging technology is still in its infancy.  As a first step, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Federal Automated Vehicles Policy this past September. It is not a set of rules, but a guide. The document covers many areas, including testing automated vehicles, licensing operators, registering vehicles and establishing the legal framework under which these vehicles will operate.   This administration is reevaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update and amend it, to ensure it strikes the right balance. And we will ask for your input as the FAA develops standards and regulations to ensure that drones can be safely integrated into our country’s airspace.


But this is just the beginning. We want to work with you and other stakeholders to ensure that the federal government is a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not an impediment. In particular, I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology.


One of biggest obstacles to deploying this technology is consumer acceptance.  We must work together to educate and address legitimate public concerns about safety and privacy.


So let me conclude by saying I look forward to working with you, and your state departments of transportation, on these emerging technologies.  The future is full of promise.  We must use every tool available to modernize our infrastructure, so our country’s economy will remain competitive, grow and produce good jobs for America’s families.


Thank you.
P. O. Box 1118
Washington, D. C. 20013
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