By Matt Hamblen
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao called for removing regulatory barriers on innovative technologies, including emerging self-driving vehicles, during a Wednesday conference appearance at CES 2018.
At the same time, she warned the technology community to understand the fears of average citizens who don’t understand fully the value of self-driving vehicles in potentially reducing accidents and highway deaths.
While self-driving vehicles are expected to reduce human error in accidents, “there are new concerns,” she said. “Seventy-one percent of drivers are not comfortable with driverless technology. A large portion are not familiar and are uneasy and their unease will form the limitations as to what this technology can do.”
She also acknowledged that there will be social costs with self-driving vehicles. “People will lose jobs and people are not comfortable. I’m not one to hold technology back. I believe long term, it will create new jobs and different kinds of jobs. How do we have a heart and show compassion for those not able to latch on to this new trend? We have a responsibility to help those people adapt.”
Chao also proposed some of the de-regulatory views espoused by President Trump. “We [at DOT] are not top down and we are not prescriptive and we are technology neutral.” She drew applause from many of the hundreds in the crowded lecture area when she added: “We do not believe we in the government know best. We believe good ideas come from the private sector. We are partners with you and want to be sure we aren’t doing things that hamper innovation.”
Chao announced that DOT had posted requests for information and comment from the public at DOT on the agency’s attempts to reduce the number of regulations that hampering growth in the autonomic vehicle area. “We want to reduce regulatory hurdles and barriers to innovation in this sector,” she said.
She also said DOT has “extended the hand of partnership” to the independent departments of transportation in the 50 states. “We work very well within each of the 50 states,” she said.
Still she urged states to study a September DOT report, “A vision for safety 2.0” with guidelines for state and local government and other stakeholders. “What is putting pressure on the feds is the state by state patchwork [of laws and policies] that are confusing, some inconsistent and some conflicting with one another,” Chao said. The purpose of the documents is to offer best practices and guidelines for what state legislators are thinking of implementing.
DOT is also under a crush of applications from potential drone pilots, Chao said. With 50,000 operators of drones, “how do we integrate the entrants into the airspace safely?” she asked.