- At the Transportation Research Board (TRB) annual meeting, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urged automakers and Silicon Valley to "step up" and do more to educate the public about the benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs).
- Chao said while the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has been focused on updating its approach to AVs and engaging with stakeholders, it is up to manufacturers to help build trust among consumers. She said companies must do more to ensure AVs are seen as respectful of safety, security and privacy.
- "The potential of this technology to increase safety is especially noteworthy, because more than 37,000 lives were lost on our roads and highways in 2017 alone," Chao said.
In calling for automakers to do more, Chao praised the nine automakers that released their voluntary self-assessment safety reports, including Ford and startups like Nuro. She said commitment to showing consumers what is happening in AV research and testing will be key. Chao said the department encourages others to do the same.
But Chao noted public reluctance to embrace AVs. Public polling from Gallup shows a majority of people are unwilling to get in one and ride it. That public mistrust has remained in part because of high-profile accidents like the one in Tempe, AZ, where an Uber-owned AV hit and killed a pedestrian. Cities and states have been skittish about allowing tests to resume.
One area Chao said USDOT has led the way is on rules governing AVs, which were updated late last year to no longer "assume" there is a human driver or operator. That opens the door for automakers to test designs that do not need human control. She said USDOT has developed that policy framework through "collaboration and cooperation" with stakeholders, an approach Chao said will be key as AVs become used more widely in the coming years.
As companies continue to engage in a race to be the first to have wide usage of AVs, Chao said safety should be the priority, while automakers can also help gain trust by being honest about research and development efforts.
"Spending on innovation is strong," Chao said. "But with the billions of dollars with these rapid developments however, it is more important than ever that AV manufacturers put safety first and embrace transparency, which will build ultimately much-needed consumer acceptance and trust. I have always said the constraints to growth in this industry will be consumer acceptance."