DOT chief Chao urges AV community to educate the public

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The “quite brilliant” engineers and technologists who are developing automated vehicles need to “step up and educate the public about this new technology” to boost confidence, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Tuesday.
 
“Without public acceptance, automated technology will never reach its full potential,” Chao said in her keynote address at the Automated Vehicles Symposium’s first full day. “Consumer acceptance will frame the limitations to growth of this technology, so we all need to work together to get it right.”
 
The DOT held a “listening session” in March to get input on the autonomous revolution, covering topics including accessibility, public safety, insurance and liability, jobs, cybersecurity and public outreach. 
 
The people who are developing and regulating the technology have various concerns, Chao said, including how automated vehicles will interact with first responders in emergency situations; how to accommodate people with different types of disabilities; what new types of insurance might be needed; how to handle vehicle data; and workforce issues.
 
Automated vehicles can open up jobs for people with disabilities, “but can render other jobs obsolete,” Chao said. As a former secretary of labor, “I am extremely concerned about the workforce issues. The transition period can be quite difficult for dislocated workers. This needs to be addressed on a societal basis.”
 
The full report was released on Tuesday, and is available here:www.dot.gov/av
 
Although there are numerous challenges and issues facing the widespread adoption of automated vehicles, “one thing is certain,” Chao said. “The autonomous revolution is coming.”  For regulators, “our responsibility is to understand it and help prepare for this new future.”
 
The challenges are both legal and technical, but the “greatest and deepest” revolve around public acceptance, which is why Chao called on the audience members to share their work with consumers. 
 
“This may be the biggest challenge of all: will the public accept, trust and adopt AV systems?” she said. 
 
After the recent Uber test crash that killed a pedestrian, public concern about self-driving vehicles spiked. Even before that, large majorities polled are in favor of safety regulations for automated vehicles.
 
“The public is increasingly expecting the public and the private sector to lead by working together to safely develop, test and integrate this new technology into our existing transportation system,” Chao said.
 
She said the DOT has safety as its highest priority, and its approach will be “technologically neutral, not top down, not command and control,” she said. “We will not pick winners and losers among the developers of these technologies. The government is not that smart.”
 
The department also will work with states and localities to avoid creating a patchwork of rules that could hamper automated vehicle development, Chao said. 

Photo: Scott MacDonald

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. Photo: Scott Campbell