New DOT chief prefers technology incentives, not mandates

The U.S. Department of Transportation sees great promise for technologies such as electronic stability control, forward collision warning systems and lane departure warning systems, but don’t expect the feds to require such technologies anytime soon, said President Bush’s new transportation secretary.

“I prefer that we use incentives and educations rather than mandates,” Mary Peters told reporters Tuesday, Oct. 31, at the American Trucking Associations meeting in Dallas.

In response to a question about the status of plans to allow expanded operations by Mexican trucks, Peters said there currently was no timetable. The Bush administration remains committed to working with the Mexican government to allow for expanded operations, as called for under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it won’t do so at the expense of safety, Peters said. “We want Mexican trucks and Mexican drivers to meet the same standards” as U.S. trucks and drivers, she said.

Peters also said she agreed with the ATA that a greater emphasis on freight movement is warranted in the federal highway program, and she noted that DOT and Congress made strides toward that in the 2005 highway act. “We made sure that freight is at the table,” said Peters, who led the Federal Highway Administration during the effort to reauthorize highway programs.

During a briefing with reporters a couple of days earlier, ATA officials said some efforts in the highway act were encouraging, including a designation of “corridors of regional and national significance.” But that progress was undermined because Congress imposed restrictive earmark money for those corridors, and none of the earmarks were for any of the top 25 bottlenecks as identified in an earlier DOT report, said Tim Lynch, ATA senior vice president for federation relations and strategic planning. Such earmarks typically favor the home districts of influential members of Congress, rather than the priorities of engineers and other experts.

Peters met with journalists after a speech to the ATA Executive Committee and a brief tour of some of the technology on display at the ATA meeting. Peters first tried her hand at a driver simulator developed by Doron Precisions Systems. As reporters and TV cameras watched her every move, Peters performed carefully, although she did sideswipe a swerving SUV; the virtual four-wheeler likely was at fault.

The next stop was the RollTek occupant protection system developed by LifeGuard Technologies. There, Peters had Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief John Hill endure a simulated rollover to show the system’s ability to protect the truck driver.

Finally, Peters met captains of America’s Road Team and reviewed the technology on a Mack truck on display in the exhibition.