The federal government is creating a council to address oversight gaps created by emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, that fall within the jurisdiction of multiple Department of Transportation agencies.
Speaking March 12 before the start of the department’s five interactive sessions at South by Southwest, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council will meet for the first time later this week and involve industry innovators. Possible topics for the council include tunneling, hyperloops and self-driving cars.
Eleven distinct administrations oversee different areas of the Transportation Department, including highways, air travel, and pipelines and hazardous materials. Emerging technologies often fall under the jurisdictions of several agencies.
“We basically have a 20th century organizational structure for 21st century technologies. So when new technologies don’t fit neatly into the existing modal structure, the results can slow down and even stifle transportation infrastructure,” Chao said.
The council will centralize the discussion of emerging transportation technologies, streamlining the review processes. Members at the council’s first meeting will create the board’s structure and begin to address tunneling technology, officials said.
Different specifications and safety standards are necessary, depending on the type of tunnel. Highway tunnels would require higher ventilation standards, and high-speed rail tunnels would require air pressurization, currently covered by the Federal Aviation Agency.
“We are talking nothing less than transforming the way in which we move, live and work. We want to do so in a responsible way,” Chao said.
Being responsible includes providing necessary oversight while allowing private industry to innovate without government interference, Chao said. “The role of the government is to address the legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation, and that’s the tough part.”
The Transportation Department released updated plans on the future of transportation in October, expanding the plan to include all automated vehicles.
Automated vehicles would reduce congestion and increase safety on the road, but a majority of the public is anxious about getting in a driverless car, Chao said March 12. “I challenge ... people at Silicon Valley to share with us their confidence and their comfort with the new technology, because consumer acceptance will be a constraint to growth.”