Two days after serving as the “designated survivor” during President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx served as “designated” speaker at an SAE Government/Industry Meeting luncheon in Washington, D.C. Secretary Foxx shared the executive summary of a newly released NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) report that considered 52 years of data, from 1960 to 2012.
“Over the last half century, technologies that improve safety—and, just as important, standards that ensure those technologies are implemented—have saved a population roughly as big as this city’s,” he said. “614,000 lives have been saved in America because we have required that drivers have the safest, latest technology installed in their cars, from seatbelts decades ago to electronic stability control.” (A federal rule—FMVSS 136—requiring ESC on heavy trucks and buses is in its final form and close to being published on the Federal Register.)
He then announced the latest technology that NHTSA will add to the list of recommended advanced-technology features under the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP): automatic emergency braking (AEB). Two types of AEB systems are included—crash imminent braking, which applies the brakes when a crash is imminent and the driver isn’t taking action, and dynamic brake support, which supplements the driver’s braking input if it’s not enough to avoid a crash.
Secretary Foxx answered a range of questions submitted by Automotive Engineering and others in the audience, following his keynote address.
Are there any discussions on reviewing cybersecurity measures on vehicles?
This is a really important topic. It’s cutting across not only the auto industry but when we think about the advent of new technologies on airplanes, in the rail space, even in the maritime area, really across transportation, more automation means that we have to pay more attention to cybersecurity. I think this is an area where industry and government have to work together. And we’ve encouraged industry to form a team that cuts across companies to really look at applying best practices in the auto area as it relates to cybersecurity. We want to continue to encourage that, and as industry steps up to the plate and forms such a coalition, U.S. DOT will be right there to help with best practices we’ve gleaned, not only from the auto sector, but across all modes of transportation.
Will DOT promote the collaboration between the military and transportation sectors for cybersecurity?
We’re in constant contact with the Department of Defense because we have many areas that overlap. I’ll remind you that when the highway system was established, part of the thrust of President Eisenhower’s thinking was for the national defense. And there are many shared areas of responsibility and interest—global positioning systems, there’s a civilian dimension of that, there’s a defense dimension to it, and we’re constantly in discussions with the Department of Defense on these topics. So...that dialogue is always robust, it will continue to be, and I see opportunities for us to continue deploying new technologies that are derived from the Department of Defense but also continuing the conversation about innovations that we can build on, whether it’s GPS or something else.
What’s your view on international harmonization?
Well, without getting into a particular set of discussions about trade or whatever, my view is that NHTSA is the best agency of its type in the world. And that is made even more clear to me when I’m traveling internationally and folks in other countries tell me that they want to have some contact with NHTSA to stand up their own auto safety organizations in countries around the world. As a result of that, I think the U.S. has really led the way in adopting safety standards for vehicles. And so we will always urge conversations towards the standards that we’ve set, not to pose a barrier to trade, but frankly to raise safety standards not only here in the U.S. but abroad. We think it’s very important, and our track record’s been pretty good in helping to advance the cause in the manufacturing world.
What are your views and plans related to autonomous vehicles?
The honest truth of the matter is I think there’s a whole new future in store for us when it comes to transportation, and automated vehicles are a part of that future. This next two years in my view is a period of time where we start laying a serious foundation for autonomous vehicles. And you know, I’m probing our team constantly because I want to make sure we’re doing that not only fast but we’re doing it right. And thinking about all the different pieces of the foundation that need to be laid. We won’t get there in my time as secretary. But I do think this is the wave of the future, and we need to do everything we can to embrace it, and frankly capture it as much as we captured the airplane and other technologies where America led the way.
Given the regulatory process, and the political timing of new elections, 2015 should be critical to get NPRMs (notices of proposed rulemaking) out to be finalized by 2016. What can we expect?
Tough crowd. (laughter) We’ve got several rules that are at some stage of the process right now, either being developed, having run through the agency, having gone over to OMB [Office of Management and Budget]. We’re going to be pushing pretty hard to move rules through. I’m reminded of when we did the vehicle-to-vehicle announcement back in the spring. When we talked about it, we knew that it would take us a while to build that rule up and to push it out, and our goal is to get that rule out before this administration ends. But if you think about it, that’s like two-and-a-half years on one rule. So we’re going to move as feverishly as we can to adopt as many of the most important rules that we have in the queue going forward, but I wouldn’t want to put a number on it. I’ll just tell you that the full weight of our department is going to be focused on doing the most impactful rules as quickly as we can with the time we have left.
What is DOT, NHTSA doing about pedestrian and bicycle safety?
Another very important issue. I was a mayor [of Charlotte, NC] before my movement into this role. I never have forgotten what it’s like to be on a local level. And I know from experience that we were seeing an uptick in pedestrian and bicycle accidents as I was leaving my city to come here. I get here, and I’m looking at each of the modes of transportation, and the one area where we’re seeing an uptick is in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and accidents. So it’s an area that we have to focus on, and we know when we focus on these areas, things change.
NHTSA’s playing a very important role. One of the areas that we’ve already identified for further work is the fact that just the basic data doesn’t exist for pedestrian and bicycle accidents and deaths in the same way it exists for other modes of transportation. So we’re looking at a variety of tools that we can use to cajole and work with local and state governments to ensure that we just have the right data sets. And then we’re working on an inter-agency basis between NHTSA, our policy office, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, to build best practices so that as communities are building their road systems, their sidewalk systems, their bike lane systems, that they are able to apply best practices.
The last place I would mention is that I think technology’s going to play a big role here, and NHTSA can play a [facilitator] role there. Things like not just vehicle-to-vehicle, but vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-pedestrian, those technologies are coming, and I think that the more we can play a role in moving those to market quickly, the better and more safe we’re going to be.