March 2, 2020 2:45 PM, EST

Secretary Elaine Chao: Consumers Will Be Key in Determining AV Technology

Elaine Chao at 2020 CPAC"innovation is a trademark of who we are as Americans. That is our greatest export,” Chao said during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28. (Restore Public Trust Press via YouTube)

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In the marketplace, the global economy’s largest retailers adjust to public demand. The same has been true, to some degree, with technology. A gadget’s popularity helps to determine its rate of production. Think iPhone.

When it comes to the autonomous vehicles landscape, public opinion will be a determining factor, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao explained last week.

“The real challenge is, as regulators, how do we address; how do we engage with emerging new technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation. Because innovation is a trademark of who we are as Americans. That is our greatest export,” Chao told an audience during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28.

Eugene Mulero


The secretary explained further, “We are not top-down. We are not command-and-control. We believe in the wisdom of the American people. We’re going to let them decide what cars they want, what kind of innovation they’re willing to accept.

“I think for a lot of the new innovation, the primary factor in determining how fast autonomous vehicles are adopted, for example, or how slowly, will be consumer acceptance,” she added.

Federal Register Notice by Transport Topics on Scribd

USDOT is seeking comments through April 2 on AV 4.0, the Trump administration’s latest version of autonomous vehicle technology guidelines. Transport Topics reported on the unveiling of AV 4.0 earlier this year. The unifying set of principles across departments, agencies, commissions and executive offices provides guidance to stakeholders. On Capitol Hill, policymakers have yet to consider legislation on autonomous vehicles.

RELATED: Updated AV guidance unveiled at CES

In the meantime, companies continue to test the technology. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put together a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment Index to archive progress. Firms offering self-assessments include Apple, AutoX, Ford, General Motors, Ike, Local Motors, Mercedes-Benz/Bosch L4-L5, Mercedes Benz L3, Nvidia, Robomart, TuSimple, Uber and Waymo.

Companies anticipate consumers eventually will embrace the technology. People will vote with their pocketbook.

The Week Ahead (All times Eastern)

March 2: The National Association of Counties hosts its legislative conference. Speakers include HUD Secretary Ben Carson; Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.); David Glaccum, associate administrator of the Small Business Association’s Office of International Trade.

Robert Sumwalt of NTSB


March 2, 1 p.m.: The National Transportation Safety Board hosts an event titled, “Improving the Safety of Part 135 Operations,” referring to a part of Title 14 of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations about air carrier and operator requirements. Participants include NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt and NTSB board member Michael Graham.

March 3, 10 a.m.: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hosts a hearing titled, “An Emerging Disease Threat: How the U.S. Is Responding to COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus.” Witnesses include Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

March 4, 10 a.m.: The Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee meets to review the proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal 2021. Secretary Elaine Chao is scheduled to appear.

March 4, 10 a.m.: The House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “Funding a Robust Freight and Passenger Rail Network.”

March 5, 10 a.m.: The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee meets for a hearing titled, “Threats Posed by State-Owned and State-Supported Enterprises to Public Transportation.” Participants include Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.); Michael O’Malley, president of the Railway Supply Institute; and Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Infrastructure Tracker

Amtrak Joe scored a major win in South Carolina. Mayor Pete, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Financier Tom Steyer are out. Learn about the remaining candidates’ infrastructure plans prior to Super Tuesday.

Freight Corridor

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at CES in January that highways need to be modernized to handle autonomous vehicles. He’s also pointed to the need for Congress to pass an infrastructure bill.


Note to our readers: The “mood swings” section in Capitol Agenda has been retired since we anticipated the “meter” would stay at zero percent through Sept. 30, amid no real progress on a federal highway funding plan.

Favorite Video

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Favorite Tweet

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The Last Word

There should never be a preference put on rural or urban, because America is all of that.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) speaking to Secretary Chao on Feb. 27

Rep. Brenda Lawrence


We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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