U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled “Hands Off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars” on Tuesday, March 15, at 2:30 p.m.
The hearing will explore advancements in autonomous vehicle technology and its anticipated benefits for Americans. Witnesses have been asked to testify on their continued efforts to develop automated vehicles, their views on the appropriate role of government in promoting innovation including removing unnecessary hurdles, and their strategy to grow consumer adoption of this new technology.
• Dr. Chris Urmson, Director of Self-Driving Cars, Google X
• Mr. Mike Ableson, Vice President, Strategy and Global Portfolio Planning, General Motors Company
• Mr. Glen DeVos, Vice President, Global Engineering and Services, Electronics and Safety, Delphi Automotive
• Mr. Joseph Okpaku, Vice President of Government Relations, Lyft
• Dr. Mary (Missy) Louise Cummings, Director, Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics, Duke University
* Witness list subject to change
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Full Committee hearing
This hearing will take place in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
For reporters interested in reserving a seat, please contact the press gallery:
• Periodical Press Gallery – 202-224-0265
• Radio/Television Gallery – 202-224-6421
• Press Photographers Gallery – 202-224-6548
• Daily Press Gallery – 202-224-0241
Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid or service, including closed captioning service for the webcast hearing, should contact Stephanie Gamache at 202-224-5511 at least three business days in advance of the hearing date.
Chairman John Thune
"Good afternoon. I would like to thank everyone for coming today as we discuss automated vehicles and the boundless opportunities these technologies offer.
"Americans love their cars. Since the automobile first rolled off an assembly line in River Rouge, Michigan, cars in America have offered independence, mobility and adventure.
"Now, profound changes are coming to our roads. Technological advancements are progressing at a rapid pace and fully self-driving cars will be here sooner than we think.
"We are facing an opportunity to expand the options for transportation by car while also making it smarter and safer.
"Yet, technological challenges remain, and people will need to become comfortable with the idea of being passengers in their own cars – we all like that feeling of control when we hold the steering wheel.
"But perhaps the greatest hurdle to the deployment of these vehicles may be a regulatory environment with a patchwork of state and federal laws unable to keep pace with these evolving technologies.
"Everything from driver assist functions like lane departure warnings to completely autonomous vehicles will transform transportation and mobility, profoundly affecting safety issues that have confronted society since the invention of the car.
"In 2014, 32,675 Americans lost their lives due to car accidents. More than ninety percent of these tragedies are linked to human error – driver choices, intoxication, and distraction.
"Automated vehicles have the potential to reduce that number dramatically. Unlike human drivers, automated vehicles don’t get tired, drunk, or distracted.
"Combatting drunk driving has been a particular priority for me. South Dakota’s 24/7 sobriety program, which works to change behavior though round-the-clock monitoring, is one successful program, but I’m eager to hear how autonomous vehicles could further reduce accidents due to drunk driving.
"In addition to helping reduce accidents on American roads, autonomous vehicles promise to improve the quality of life for older Americans and members of the disabled community.
"No longer will a lack of accessible transportation hinder opportunities for employment or community involvement. As America’s population ages, families may no longer have to struggle with the difficult decision of when to take the keys away from mom or dad.
"Automated vehicles could also end one of the most frustrating parts of modern urban life – the traffic jam. This alone would improve the quality of life for many commuters with more time for families as commutes shorten.
"And, if the car does all the driving, time spent in a car could be productive, such as reading work emails, checking the box score from last night’s game, or catching up on the highlights on Sports Center.
"With no more gridlock, traffic will flow more smoothly and efficiently. Even fuel economy is likely to improve, since automated vehicles will be more efficient than human drivers.
"These advancements also have the potential to reshape communities. Currently, parking garages and surface lots take up one-third of the land in cities.
"Imagine a technology that will revolutionize parking as we know it, allowing that land to be reclaimed and repurposed.
"To implement this future, we need to challenge ourselves to overcome the 20th century conception of what a car must have – side and rearview mirrors, a brake pedal, a steering wheel, and even the concept of a licensed human driver.
"Because so much is possible, we must be careful not to stymie innovation because of a lack of imagination.
"Federal and state governments may need to rethink how they regulate and license vehicles for the future.
"We must ensure that the United States remains the cradle of innovation and that we continue to lead the way in the development and deployment of automated vehicles.
"In addition, questions regarding liability, insurance, privacy, security, and infrastructure need answers. These aren’t small things, but none of them is insurmountable.
"And if Congress, the Department of Transportation, industry, and stakeholders work together, we will see all the benefits promised.
"This morning, the Committee had the great opportunity to see some of this technology in action, when we brought self-drive to Capitol Hill. Continental, Volkswagen, BMW, and Tesla provided vehicles that gave us first-hand experience to see what the future may hold and a preview to the discussions at this hearing.
"I want to thank them for making their vehicles available.
"This afternoon we are joined by witnesses representing Google X, General Motors, Delphi, and Lyft, companies with direct stakes in automated technology. We are also joined by Dr. Cummings from Duke University, who is also a distinguished naval aviator and a returning witness before our Committee. Dr. Cummings, thank you for your service to our country.
"I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses to learn more about what they’re doing in this space and their vision for the future.
"Before we hear from our witnesses, some will also play a short video. But up first, Senator Nelson."
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing.
I also want to thank you and the committee staff for arranging the autonomous technology demonstrations this morning for members of the committee.
I know it was not easy to set this up – particularly with all of the security that we have around the Capitol – and I really appreciate your efforts.
From the outset, I want to say that I share everyone’s enthusiasm and excitement about the prospect of self-driving cars.
If truly autonomous vehicles become a reality, it’s not an exaggeration to say that our overall sense of mobility would be revolutionized.
Many lives could be saved by reducing preventable accidents.
Our environment could be significantly greener through reduced emissions.
Efficiency and productivity could sky rocket, and underserved communities without reliable means of transportation could finally be integrated into the global economy.
And in Florida and many other states, this technology could be particularly beneficial for seniors and people with disabilities.
But we have to get the technology right so that self-driving cars live up to their full promise.
Congress and the federal government must play a critical role, and that means, yes, we must foster a regulatory and legal environment in which American businesses are able to develop and manufacture these vehicles.
But it also means that we must exercise responsible oversight by asking the tough questions today to make sure these cars of tomorrow are safe for the public.
As we have seen with both the Takata airbag crisis and the GM ignition switch recall, individual components of vehicles with defects can snowball into big problems.
With autonomous cars, the stakes are even higher.
For example, can you imagine what would happen if little cybersecurity flaw allowed thousands – or even millions – of autonomous vehicles to get hacked while they are out on the road?
One small defect could lead to a massive safety crisis – and we have to get this right.
Safety has to be built into these vehicles.
And if a problem comes up, manufacturers and regulators have to get together and quickly find solutions.
No more cover-ups or head in the sand approaches to safety.
If we are to avoid similar tragedies in the future, we must ask difficult policy questions and have frank discussions on what can go wrong and what can be done to prevent it.
I hope we can do that today.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Chris UrmsonDirector of Self-Driving CarsGoogle X
Mr. Mike AblesonVice President, Strategy and Global Portfolio PlanningGeneral Motors Company
Mr. Glen DeVosVice President, Global Engineering and Services, Electronics and SafetyDelphi Automotive
Mr. Joseph OkpakuVice President of Government RelationsLyft
Dr. Mary (Missy) Louise CummingsDirector, Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke RoboticsDuke University