ChaoDOT Photo: DOT
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

DOT Secretary Chao: Deregulation, innovation protection remain key

In AASHTO speech, transportation secretary says updated autonomous vehicle guidance will be issued by August.

WASHINGTON, D.C. In a speech at the annual “Washington Briefing” held by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao stressed that deregulatory efforts to cut transportation costs alongside efforts to “protect and foster innovation” will continue to be the focus of the Department of Transportation (DOT) going forward.

“Regulatory costs hinder job creation and limit innovation,” she said. “We are doing what we can at the regulatory level to help speed up infrastructure projects while lowering their costs.”

Chao said that during “the last eight years” – an oblique reference to the Obama administration – new DOT regulations alone added $3 billion a year in extra regulatory costs. By contrast, she noted that in 2017, DOT lowered regulatory costs by $312 million and is “on track” to reduce them by $500 million more in 2018.

“This is a dramatic turnaround,” Chao explained. For example, she noted that of the 158 regulations issued by DOT in 2017, 82 of them were “deregulatory.” By contrast, Chao said of the 132 regulations issued by the agency in 2016, only 14% (roughly 18) were “deregulatory.”

DOT’s “deregulatory” focus is going to continue, she noted in her remarks, and is a focus that also underpins the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan, which was sent to Congress on February 12. “The challenge of infrastructure planning is paying for it; the administration and Congress are grappling with that now,” Chao said, noting “overly-burdensome regulations” are adding to that issue. “That’s why we are keeping this torturous [regulatory] history in mind,” she stressed.

That’s also a reason why the administration’s infrastructure effort is focused on “devolving” more responsibility for planning and funding roads, bridges, etc., to local and state governments, Chao explained. “Only 10% of the country’s infrastructure is owned by the federal government and only 14% of total infrastructure spending is federal dollars,” she pointed out. “That’s why we want to empower more decision-making at the local and state level.”

Chao added that a new booklet will be released soon to provide a “fuller picture” of the reasons behind President Trump’s infrastructure rebuilding plans.

She also noted that further updates to autonomous vehicle policy – dubbed “Autonomous 3.0” – should be available by August this year. “We are in the midst of a transportation transformation and the future is already here,” Chao said, highlighting the rapid development of "new technology" in the form of drones, autonomous driving systems, and self-driving vehicles.

And she stressed that DOT’s approach to such “innovations” will be to remain “technology neutral,” with no “top-down” or “command and control” involvement. "We need to protect and foster innovation," Chao said. "That is the hallmark of America.”

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