Cars, country and Secretary Chao: How America can prepare for self-driving cars

From the Ford Model T to Cadillacs and Corvettes, Route 66 to the Pacific Coast Highway, no industry is more quintessentially American than the auto sector. And perhaps no other industry is on the verge of such remarkable innovative disruption.

Car crashes are responsible for more than 35,000 deaths and many more injuries in the U.S. every year. Self-driving vehicles will provide the solution to this public health crisis -- and deliver benefits we’ve never before dreamed possible. President Trump should challenge us all to cut annual driving deaths by half over the next 10 years.

If America wants to continue leading the international auto industry - and deliver unprecedented safety to its citizens - Washington must continue to play a lead role in setting a balanced regulatory approach. Without consistent regulation across state lines, individual states may create patchwork rules that could make traveling across state lines difficult, if not impossible.

In taking that lead, the federal government must proceed with caution and not overregulate. Even well-intentioned rules could threaten the burgeoning market for self-driving cars. Only by practicing what acting FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen calls “regulatory humility” will the self-driving car industry flourish. This means ensuring that individual agencies do not attempt to regulate beyond their purview. NHSTA’s federal guidance on self-driving vehicles is a crucial first step, but we also need bipartisan cooperation in Congress and clear communication between executive agencies, as well as close collaboration with industry.

Newly-confirmed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao acknowledged this in her confirmation hearing in January. “We have led the world on so many fronts because of the new technologies we have been able to pioneer,” she told the Senate. “But we need to [address concerns with new technology] in a way that will not dampen the basic creativity and ingenuity of our country.” A “state-by-state patchwork” of laws, she added, could inhibit technological development.

This game-changing technology is emerging across the globe. Nissan will start testing self-driving cars in London this month. Volvo is looking for volunteers to test their self-driving cars in London. And Singapore released a small squadron of self-driving cabs within a small section of the city last year.

Here in the U.S., Uber is testing self-driving cars in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project, has logged more than two million miles of driverless testing in states from Washington to Texas. And last month, the Department of Transportation announced 10 official sites for testing self-driving vehicles. Our nation must continue to lead the world in these innovative new technologies, embracing the promise of self-driving cars.

In January at CES® 2017, we dedicated a whole convention hall to the nine automakers and 145 auto tech companies who shared their latest innovations. Ford, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Nissan all brought self-driving cars. Other amazing car-related technologies were also on display. Ford, Nissan and BMW are installing automated assistant technology into cars. FCA exhibited an electric car marketed specifically toward millennials. NVIDIA and Qualcomm showcased innovative, new technologies to help power the vehicles of the future. And Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn highlighted his company’s vision for a zero-emission, zero- fatality world thanks to all-electric, self-driving vehicles.

Consumers are ready for self-driving technology. According to our research, over 60 percent of Americans would be interested in replacing their car or truck with a self-driving vehicle. An even larger group – 70 percent – would be willing to test drive a self-driving car. And consumers are already excited about the driver-assist technology currently on the market: 93 percent of drivers who use advanced features such as parking assist, adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance appreciate their usefulness.

Additionally, self-driving cars offer previously unimagined independence and mobility to people with visual impairments and other disabilities, as well as to seniors - freedom to travel to work, to doctor appointments, and to see loved ones. And a study from Securing America’s Future Energy and the Ruderman Family Foundation found self-driving cars could open two million employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Self-driving cars can also drastically reduce traffic accidents, drunk driving and distracted driving. Accidents rank among the top 10 causes of death in America – unsurprising, considering that NHTSA estimates that approximately 94 percent of accidents are the result of human error.

With the leadership of the auto industry and ecosystem, President Trump, Secretary Chao and Congress, self-driving technologies will accelerate America into an innovative future, providing more safety, jobs and accessibility for all.