Transportation chief urges Trump to press forward on self-driving cars

Transportation chief urges Trump to press forward on self-driving cars

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxWeek ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars Six contenders to be Uber's new CEO Obama’s Transportation chief given Super Bowl tickets by Hollywood studio exec MORE believes the incoming Trump administration has an opportunity to affect American lives through work on self-driving cars.

Foxx, who took the helm of the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2013, reflected on his tenure at the agency in an 11-page memo released Thursday. He says autonomous vehicles have the power to dramatically save lives in the same way that seat belts did.

Connected vehicles and crash-avoidance technology can help reduce 94 percent of crashes involving an unimpaired driver, according to Foxx.

ADVERTISEMENT

“In the 1960’s we had to fight industry to require seatbelts in vehicles, and to take other safety measures. The result of these safety battles paid off: the motor vehicle fatality rate has dropped by 80 percent,” Foxx wrote. “Now, fifty years later we are working with the automobile and technology industries to shape policies to ensure safe deployment of autonomous and connected vehicles on our roads, which have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives annually.”

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE and his DOT team will begin their work at a critical juncture in auto safety. In 2015, traffic fatalities rose to 35,092 deaths – the largest spike in 50 years. 

Foxx said the DOT has already laid the groundwork to ensure the safe development and deployment of driverless cars, pointing to the first-ever federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles and a draft rule requiring all new cars to be equipped with communication technology.

“The Department has taken significant steps to unlock the promise of these new transportation technologies, including automated vehicles,” he said.

But Foxx stressed that more work needs to be done. A 15-point safety assessment included in the driverless car guidelines is only voluntary, with the intention of eventually taking them through the formal rulemaking process.

And the proposal requiring light-duty cars and trucks to have vehicle-to-vehicle technology is not yet finalized, putting the ball in the new administration’s court.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), co-chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, acknowledged the new administration is going to be facing “a big choice” on the driverless car guidelines.

“Are they going to continue with that, or say we’re going to scrap this and come up with something new?” he told The Hill late last year.

Foxx outlined other challenges that will be facing Elaine Chao, Trump’s nominee for DOT secretary.

With legal authority for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expiring in September, Chao “will have an early opportunity to influence aviation,” he wrote.

Some of the issues likely to crop up in that debate include drones, consumer protections and whether to separate air traffic control operations from the FAA.

Foxx also warned Chao that she will be confronted with a growing population and backlog of transportation projects at a time when funding solutions for infrastructure have remained elusive in Washington.

Trump has promised to make massive investments in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, but it’s unclear exactly how his plan would be paid for.

“In an era of limited budgets, state and local governments will have to utilize innovative, creative tools to meet their infrastructure needs,” Foxx said. “Traditional approaches to funding and delivering federally-funded transportation programs, developed decades ago, may no longer be capable of providing Americans with a state of the art transportation system.”