Testimony Of The Honorable David Strickland On Behalf Of the Self-Driving Coalition For Safer Streets

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Wednesday, April 27, 2016 9:00 AM (PDT)

Good morning Administrator Rosekind and the NHTSA vehicle safety team. To begin, I would like to thank you for your hard work and leadership on self-driving vehicle technologies. From your announcement in January with Secretary Foxx on the Obama Administration’s commitment to provide nearly $4 billion over the next ten years to support and accelerate the development of automated vehicles, to today’s public meeting on developing operational guidelines, the agency clearly recognizes the incredible promise automated vehicles can provide.

As you are deeply aware, the work on automated driving has gone on for years in various venues by diverse parties, but the evolution of active safety and automated technologies have brought us to a point where crucial decisions about our transportation future are upon us.

Over the last several decades, the agency’s and the auto industry’s primary approach to reducing fatalities is to improve occupant protection by making the passenger cabin more robust and capable of protecting drivers and passengers. This concept of crashworthiness has allowed us to enjoy a dramatic decline in fatalities, but persistent challenges, such as human error, driver impairment, not wearing seatbelts, and newer challenges, such as device related distraction, continue to be contributing factors that lead to a loss of life that remains one of this country’s top public health challenges. Despite decades of success in reducing that number, we still see over 33,000 lives lost each year on our roadways. This translates to approximately 90 fatalities per day due to traffic crashes. More frustrating is that we are seeing an upward trend in fatalities after enjoying years of significant reductions. While we must continue to make strides in crashworthiness and improving driver behavior, the future of occupant protection includes active safety and crash avoidance systems as new and important tools in this fight. I strongly believe that fully autonomous self-driving vehicles have the potential to significantly transform and advance the personal safety of passengers and other roadway users from what we are currently experiencing. That is why many of us are here today.

With all the various active safety technologies that are currently being deployed, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the wide societal benefits fully self-driving vehicles can provide. Full self-driving technology directly addresses driver awareness and error, can reduce congestion, and would provide the opportunity for millions of people to attain individual mobility that are currently foreclosed from driving.

Because of the importance of deploying fully autonomous self-driving vehicles as quickly as possible, five companies have decided to come together to form the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. The founding members of this coalition are Ford Motor Company, Google, Lyft, Uber, and the Volvo Car Group. I will be serving the coalition as its counsel and spokesperson.

The coalition’s purpose is to create a means by which civic leaders, community organizers, businesses, lawmakers, and regulators can work together to advance the deployment of fully autonomous self-driving vehicles in a safe and timely manner. This coalition will be working with the broadest spectrum of stakeholders to make Level 4 self-driving capabilities available to as broad a segment of the American population as soon as possible.

One reason why this coalition of innovators came together is that, despite the abundant benefits to society from this technology, there are policy issues and inconsistencies in the regulatory environment today that could greatly delay deployment or possibly deny full self driving from many that could benefit from its promise. The coalition will engage with civic leaders so that any regulatory or legislative actions designed to improve safety do not foreclose Level 4 self-driving, and to ensure that this is achieved in a timely manner.

In the six years since I first started working on automated driving, I’ve seen it rapidly develop from a novel and promising research project, to a robust technology development effort with a very near term deployment horizon. We are years, not decades away from this becoming a reality for the American public.

The stakes are enormous. The means to directly address virtually every crash risk, provide independence, identity and dignity to seniors and the differently abled, and to reduce congestion cannot be ignored or denied. The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets looks forward to working with you on the operational guidelines and the other aspects of making full self-driving an immediate reality.

Thank you.