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Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Transportation, October 28, 2016

Testimony of the Honorable David Strickland on Behalf of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets
Friday, October 28, 2016

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it’s an honor to appear before you today.  My name is David Strickland, and I am Counsel to the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, whose members are Ford Motor Company, Google, Lyft, Uber, and the Volvo Car Group.  Prior to my involvement in the Coalition, I was the Administrator of NHTSA from 2010 - 2014, and issued the first federal testing policy for self driving cars.

The purpose of the Coalition is to create a mechanism for civic leaders, community organizers, businesses, lawmakers, and regulators to work together to advance the deployment of fully autonomous self-driving vehicles in a safe and timely manner.  The Coalition is working with a broad spectrum of stakeholders to make fully self-driving capabilities available to as broad a segment of the American population as soon as possible.

As governments grapple with the most effective way to address self-driving cars without compromising safety or inhibiting innovation, we welcome the opportunity to partner with state and local governing bodies to facilitate deployment and bring these potentially life-saving technologies to market.  The Coalition applauds New York City for taking advantage of the opportunity to understand how self-driving cars have the potential to improve public safety.  Despite decades of success in reducing fatalities, we lost 35,092 people on our roadways in 2015.  Here in New York City, 230 people died in traffic crashes, 133 of those were pedestrian deaths.  At the national level, it is more frustrating is that we are seeing an upward trend again in fatalities in 2016.  While we must continue to make strides in crashworthiness and improving driver behavior, the future of occupant protection includes active safety and crash avoidance systems as new and important tools in this fight.  The Coalition strongly believes that self-driving cars have the potential to significantly transform and advance the personal safety of passengers and other roadway users from what we are currently experiencing. 

As various active safety technologies continue to be deployed, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the wide potential societal benefits self-driving cars may provide.  Self-driving cars directly address driver awareness and error, can reduce congestion, and could provide the opportunity for millions of people to attain individual mobility that are currently foreclosed from driving.  The potential benefits of self-driving cars have exceptional relevance in a market such as New York City, where they could help reduce traffic delays and address parking challenges.

As you are aware, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released voluntary guidance regarding the testing and deployment of “highly automated vehicles.”  The Coalition supports NHTSA’s effort to construct a novel regulatory approach that would promote the “expeditious and safe introduction” of fully self-driving vehicles as a means of improving safety and promoting mobility.  To that end, the Coalition encourages opportunities to collaborate with local, state, and federal governments to ensure thoughtful and uniform testing and deployment, including through public-private partnerships, which will be integral to successful deployment of self-driving cars.   Early engagement, as exemplified by the Council’s efforts, will ensure that the public sector’s efforts are in sync with technological developments.  For instance, New York law currently requires that drivers keep one hand on the wheel, effectively banning deployment of vehicles that do not require a human operator in the vehicle.  This provision was originally added to New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law in 1967, long before the prospect of self-driving cars became a reality.

The Coalition appreciates the Council’s proactive approach to understanding the future of self-driving cars and their potential to help your constituents and this City.  As the Council continues to explore this area, the Coalition looks forward to serving as a resource concerning both technical and policy questions. 

The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets looks forward to working with the New York City Council towards making fully self-driving cars an immediate reality.  We appreciate your interest in this area and would welcome further collaboration moving forward.

Thank you.