Press Releases

Hearing Highlights the Potential for Driverless Vehicle Technology

Washington, DC, November 19, 2013 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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A Congressional hearing today focused on the potential benefits, impacts, and policy issues related to the development and implementation of driverless vehicle technology on America’s highways.

Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) led today’s hearing, and the panel heard testimony from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), General Motors, Nissan, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Eno Center for Transportation.

Petri said that today’s hearing highlighted both the enormous potential of developing technology in the future of transportation, and the need to ensure that federal and state policymakers are prepared to address issues that allow for the timely implementation of new, safe technologies.  “Today’s hearing was invaluable in demonstrating what questions must be answered to allow the continued development of autonomous vehicle technologies that, if properly implemented, can improve transportation safety, reduce congestion, and allow us to use our existing infrastructure more efficiently,” Petri said.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) recently received a demonstration of autonomous vehicle technology in Pennsylvania during an approximately 30-mile ride in the Pittsburgh area, courtesy of Carnegie Mellon’s driverless vehicle.  “The United States needs to be a world leader when it comes to developing transportation technology,” Shuster said.  “Government has an important role in protecting the public interest and safety, but we also have to ensure that innovation is not stifled by overregulation.  Government should embrace technology, not impede it.”

Click above for video of Chairman Shuster’s demonstration of autonomous vehicle technology

At today’s hearing, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland highlighted the most important potential benefit to implementing new technologies: improving safety.  NHTSA has estimated that human error is the probable cause for 93 percent of vehicle crashes.  Strickland stated in his testimony, “According to estimates, there were 33,561 fatalities on America’s roadways in 2012.  This represents an increase of about 3.3 percent as compared to the 32,367 fatalities that occurred in 2011….  Automated vehicles can potentially help reduce these numbers significantly.”

Dr. Raj Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon University elaborated on other benefits the implementation of driverless technology may yield.  “Autonomous driving technologies can also contribute to completely new transportation paradigms that can generate significant cost savings for American taxpayers,” said Rajkumar.  “Vehicles can travel closer to each other, utilizing available roads better and traveling at uniform, and therefore faster, speeds.  Finally, these technologies are also contributing to a new wave of innovation led by our automotive industry, which can contribute to growth across the entire U.S. economy and create new jobs.  This in turn will keep the nation as the global leader in intelligent transportation systems.”

GM’s Michael J. Robinson added, “In addition to the obvious highway safety benefits, wide implementation of these systems could offer potentially significant benefits for improved fuel economy and CO2 reduction.  Also, eliminating -- or virtually eliminating -- crashes could have profound impact on how we engineer vehicles for occupant safety and crash worthiness.”

Robinson’s testimony also offered some suggestions about how best to encourage the pursuit of technology:

1. Let the market work -- let manufacturers like GM do what we do best and compete for customers with features that add real value to their drive today and in next generation models;

2. Support a federal approach to addressing any relevant operating requirements, guidelines and standards -- so that automated technologies and connected vehicle communications are consistent, validated and secure. Also, a reasonable phase in period for any requirements is critical; and finally

3. Provide an environment that promotes the development and implementation of these technologies in the U.S. -- rather than in other countries. For example, protecting automakers from frivolous litigation for systems that meet performance requirements and relevant government operating standards.

Members of the Subcommittee and witnesses discussed the various issues that state and federal lawmakers may need to address before autonomous vehicles could be widely introduced into the American vehicle fleet.  Andy Christensen with Nissan raised another criterion for the successful implementation of the technology: “Autonomous driving may significantly alter the way society views driving, so social acceptability will be an important component and should be carefully managed in parallel with the technical development.  An ongoing and open dialogue among stakeholders is critical to help address the social framework needed to support autonomous technology deployment.”

Click here for additional information from today’s hearing, including testimony, video, and background information.

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