As new technologies like autonomous vehicles, drones and the hyperloop promise to revolutionize transportation, consumer acceptance will pose the greatest challenges to widespread adoption, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said during a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
During a sit-down interview at the conference with Yahoo Finance, Chao also said the race to develop new transportation solutions like self-driving cars is "not a competition" between the technology and automotive industries.
"It should not be a zero-sum game," Chao said. "Safety is not a zero-sum game. Security is not a zero-sum game. Nor is privacy. I think the greatest constraints to growth for both these sectors will be consumer acceptance."
Chao, who visited with automakers at both CES and the Detroit Auto Show, noted the public's anxiety about driverless vehicles; a study released earlier this week by AAA found that 63 percent of respondents would be afraid to ride in a self-driving car. But she said the technology holds enormous promise to increase safety, noting that more than 90 percent of all crashes are the result of human error, and to provide new mobility freedoms for disabled people and seniors.
Chao, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, said there are questions about when autonomous vehicles will hit the market, but added "the reality is it's gonna happen. So we at the department want to make sure that we are addressing legitimate concerns about safety, security and privacy while not hampering the growth and the innovation in this sector, because as Americans, the innovation and the creativity that's occurring in this sector is part of our competitive advantage."
In Washington, a Senate committee is working on legislation that would make it easier for automakers to get self-driving vehicles on U.S. roads by winning exemptions from rules requiring human controls, possibly by tying the bill to the forthcoming infrastructure package, according to Reuters.
Asked about the Trump administration's plans to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure, Chao said a proposal should be released in early February, following the president's State of the Union address. She described the plan as involving $1 trillion in spending, including $200 billion from the federal government, with the remainder made up of a combination of funds from private sources and state and local funds. President Trump has since nudged the plan's price tag to $1.7 trillion over 10 years.
"We can't really afford more, because number one, we don't have the money, and number two, it really would create havoc if it was 100 percent government funding," she said. "But that is where the big discussion will have to be. Who's going to pay for it? How is it gonna be paid for?"
Chao added, "We are very open to having a dialog with the Congress."