Transportation Secretary Chao: A New Chapter at U.S. DOT

The below article is excerpted from GHSA's Directions in Highway Safety member newsletter.

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February 2017 Newsletter

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DOT Secretary Elaine ChaoWith Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao at the wheel, the U.S. DOT is positioned to provide national leadership as traffic fatalities surge and new, potentially lifesaving vehicle technologies emerge. GHSA looks forward to working closely with the new Secretary to forge a strong safety vision for our highway system and provide states the resources and flexibility to do more to drive down roadway deaths and injuries.

In a season of contentious Senate confirmations, Secretary Chao was perhaps the least challenging of President Trump’s major nominees. At her November 29 nomination hearing, Senators from both parties remarked on her strong professional qualifications. Secretary Chao served as Secretary of Labor under the George W. Bush Administration and Deputy Secretary of Transportation for George H.W. Bush. She is also a well-connected Republican insider and married to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Despite broad agreeability, Secretary Chao has revealed only brief glimpses of her transportation views, even after her January 11 confirmation hearing. She has, however, noted that she will help spearhead President Trump’s efforts on infrastructure investment. When asked about autonomous vehicles, the Secretary reasoned that solutions will not be decided by any one person or department. Instead, she pledged to work with all stakeholders to strike a balance between innovation and safety.

Notably, this and several other comments suggested a strong alignment with the Trump Administration and the GOP to roll back “burdensome regulations” and ensure that any regulations are strongly data-driven.

Of greatest interest to the traffic safety community, Secretary Chao affirmed that safety will be a top priority for the U.S. DOT during her tenure. GHSA is excited to learn how the Secretary plans to build on the strong safety legacies of her immediate predecessors: Ray LaHood’s campaign against distracted driving and Anthony Foxx’s efforts to accelerate the introduction of innovative vehicle safety features.

Though Secretary Chao was confirmed on January 31 (by a vote of 93-6) and sworn in February 3, the Trump Administration still needs to appoint a lengthy list of U.S. DOT leadership, including the next NHTSA Administrator. In previous Presidential transitions, this has taken up to a year or more.

In the meantime, GHSA stands with the Administration, Congress and our partners to prioritize highway safety and hopes to deepen our many collaborations to safeguard all road users.