In her first public remarks since her Jan. 31 confirmation, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she planned to take a look at guidance from the previous administration on safety measures for makers of self-driving cars, which some have criticized as being too lenient.
Chao told the National Governors Association on Sunday the current administration would consult the assembled state leaders “and other stakeholders as we update and amend [the list of guidelines] to ensure it strikes the right balance,” adding she believes autonomous vehicle safety could increase substantially, Reuters reported.
“There’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right,” she said, citing research findings that 94 percent of auto crashes were a result of human error.
At her Jan. 11 Senate hearing, Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., demonstrated her affinity for autonomous vehicles, which she said “have the potential to improve our transportation system by saving lives” and “increasing mobility.” She also urged finding ways for the technology to “develop … in a way that will not dampen the basic creativity and innovation of our country,” and emphasized the need to avoid a “patchwork” of state laws limiting the technology’s nationwide growth.
Within the self-driving vehicle corner of the tech world, Chao has won a warm welcome.
“As the next secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao will have the unique opportunity to advance new and transformative safety innovations like self-driving vehicles,” the Washington-based Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets — established by major automakers, such as Ford and Volvo, and ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft — said in a Jan. 31 press release. “We ... look forward to working with her on delivering the promise of self-driving technology to make our neighborhoods safer and enhance mobility for the disabled and disadvantaged.”
While Chao’s address to the governors’ association hinted at increased safety measures, her appointment was heralded as a signal of more lax government oversight in the development of self-driving cars.
“We’d like to see her continue with her track record of light regulation,” Grayson Brulte of the innovation advisory and consulting firm Brulte & Co. told the Los Angeles Times. “If she allows forward-thinking entrepreneurs to build on the platforms that are autonomous vehicles, we’ll unleash an economic boom that will create huge numbers of jobs.”