ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Your federal government wants to help you take your hands off the wheel. Today the Department of Transportation issued its federal automated vehicle policy. It does a number of things. It outlines how manufacturers and developers assure safe design. It tells states what responsibilities they'll have, and it points out potential new tools for ensuring safety.
Joining me now is Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and he's here to talk about laying the groundwork for self-driving vehicles. Welcome to the program once again.
ANTHONY FOXX: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: And first, just very broadly, with this policy, does the federal government see a significant transition to self-driving vehicles - say, 25 percent of the cars on the road - within five years, 10 years, 20 years? What do you - what would you say?
FOXX: I don't know about percentages, but it's very clear that there is a growing interest in the marketplace to bring these vehicles into the lives of Americans, and it's incumbent upon us to get ahead of it and to make sure that safety is part of the thought process at the very beginning. And that's part of what our policy will set forth.
SIEGEL: Are you proposing that manufacturers be required as they develop self-driving vehicles to share data with one another and in effect share the fruits of their research with one another?
FOXX: We've had good experience with data sharing among highly competitive cohort of industry. I would say the Federal Aviation Administration is our best example of this, where data is shared anonymously, but it has helped us in many ways predict safety challenges and avert safety challenges within the industry.
We think this model could be used in the auto industry, particularly with a driverless environment where there is going to be so much more data available than we currently have today. We certainly want to encourage collaboration within the industry.
SIEGEL: Secretary Foxx, a quick check up - these are questions I asked you seven months ago when we spoke.
SIEGEL: There's an issue of liability involved in self-driving cars. If there's an accident, is the person who's sitting and might have been able to take over control liable, or is the manufacturer liable? Number one - have you gotten your arms around the issue of liability yet?
FOXX: I think that's a question that's going to need further conversation, and in the guidance we've laid out, we expect the states to be engaged in that discussion as well.
SIEGEL: So the answer is no. We have so far no resolution to the issues of liability.
FOXX: Yeah, but look. The policy recognizes there are areas that we have deep knowledge today and can develop policy around, and there are areas that need to be discussed over a longer time frame. And that's one of them.
SIEGEL: And as someone who drives daily through a tunnel that's under construction in Washington, D.C., and through other city streets that are often under repair, I ask you the same question. Are you confident that U.S. infrastructure, especially in cities, is ready for cars that might be programmed for a more predictable environment?
FOXX: (Laughter) Well, I have questions about whether our streets are in a condition for human drivers today. That's why I went and argued so strenuously for a long-term surface bill. There - obviously our infrastructure needs to be kept at a good state of repair.
I also believe that over the next decade or so, we're going to start integrating more technological capability into the infrastructure itself, much more sophisticated street signal alignment - the street lights networks that we have today actually communicating with cars and turning off when there are no cars on the road and turning on when there are. I think you're going to see a lot of that technology take root, and you're going to see it at the municipal level, at the state level.
SIEGEL: When we spoke back in February, I asked you whether you would feel confident driving home that day or being driven by a self-driving car, and you said not yet.
SIEGEL: It's September now.
SIEGEL: Any change?
FOXX: Every day I grow more and more confident, but we still have to work through that fifteen-point safety assessment. And once a company has worked through that one, I'll feel comfortable.
SIEGEL: What do you say to the free marketeers who would say Henry Ford didn't need the federal government to do this? We didn't develop the automobile initially by having a conversation between Washington and the automakers.
FOXX: Well, I would say that there's not really a conflict between innovation and safety, that you can actually have innovation. You can have safety, and you can innovate in the safety arena if you take the right approach. We did not have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration back when the Model T was put on the assembly line. And if we had, we probably would have saved untold numbers of lives by having that kind of vigilance at the beginning.
We have that opportunity today. This is a once-in-a-hundred-year moment to capture a technology while it's in its early stages and build a culture of safety within it, and that's what we intend to do.
SIEGEL: U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, thank you very much for talking with us once again.
FOXX: Thank you, Robert.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.