Thank you, Chairman Collins, for your leadership and for holding this important hearing on the future of self-driving vehicles. I want to thank all of our witnesses for taking the time to share their expertise on this issue with us today.
Automated and self-driving vehicles are not yet common on our roads, but autonomous driving and safety features, such as automatic emergency brakes and parking assist have been introduced gradually over the last several years. Manufacturers and innovators are now poised to take transformative leaps in the development, integration, and adoption of these technologies.
What was once novel is at the brink of becoming commonplace. As with any change, it brings opportunity, as well as risk and anxiety -- particularly for the millions of Americans who earn a living as commercial drivers. What remains unanswered is how this transportation revolution will evolve and what steps regulators and industry should take to foster and harness the positive aspects of new technology.
Today, auto manufacturers, ridesharing companies, and other investors are funding research and development on driverless vehicles. They are also launching pilot programs to gather data and introduce consumers to different forms of this technology. Uber is allowing customers in Pittsburgh to share rides in self-driving cars. Otto, which is a self-driving bus and truck company owned by Uber, autonomously delivered commercial goods just last month. Tesla is collecting millions of miles of data from its semi-autonomous vehicles and has announced that it will potentially make a fully autonomous vehicle starting next year. Google has been designing and testing cars with no human driver in mind for several years in California. And GM and Lyft have partnered to build an autonomous fleet that will be available for ridesharing.
These companies are all using different strategies to achieve seemingly different goals. Some seek to provide efficient, accessible, and cost-effective transportation similar to transit. Others want to improve freight transportation through fleets of autonomous trucks that can save gas and operate around the clock.
What is clear is that technology is fundamentally changing vehicles as we know them. This innovation has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety, as well as expand mobility access for thousands of people. In 2015, more than 35,000 people died in crashes on our nation’s highways. That number represented an 8 percent increase from the previous year and marked the deadliest year on record since 2008. NHTSA found that 94 percent of those deaths were the result of human error. Self-driving vehicles could eliminate many of these crashes, injuries, and deaths.
We have a responsibility to fulfil this technology’s promise and foster American innovation. We also must be cognizant of the consequences of these technological shifts for the American economy and American workers. Self-driving cars and trucks will certainly demand new kinds of jobs and skills, but those jobs may be in different sectors of the economy.
For millions of Americans, particularly those without a college degree or advanced training, driving a bus, a cab, or a truck can provide a decent income. In the latest year of data available from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are more than 4 million workers in the United States employed as drivers of trucks, taxis, chauffeurs, or delivery vehicles.
Driverless technology may help make these physically-demanding jobs a little easier, but it will likely also render them obsolete. We need to think through how to respond to those outcomes and how to help the workforce adapt to inevitable technological change. That is a broader conversation that should include the Department of Labor, local workforce boards, and unions. Our regulatory agencies, from the local to the federal level, will also be challenged by the rate of continued innovation. We need to ask whether federal regulators have the tools and funding to respond quickly in the face of rapid technological change.
NHTSA recently released a guidance document for comment with the intent of promoting technological advancement and preventing a patchwork of state regulations. I want to thank you, Administrator Rosekind, for your hard work, but this guidance still leaves many questions unanswered.
• When will NHTSA initiate a formal rulemaking on self-driving vehicles?
• When and how will the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards be updated?
• How much data does NHTSA want to collect from industry and consumers, and how will it protect that data from cyber threats?
We know industry will continue to innovate, develop, and deploy technology at a faster pace than the federal regulatory process, and this will present a challenge to maintain our safety and security in a new era of mobility.
I want to once again thank our witnesses for participating in our hearing today, and I look forward to a conversation that will inform our work going forward.