The Future of Self-Driving Cars

December 1, 2017
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On November 16, Professor Najmedin Meshkati and his ISE 370 Human Factors in Work Design class welcomed guest speaker Christopher Hart, member and ex-Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  Hart gave a lecture entitled “The Challenges and Opportunities of Autonomous Vehicles.”


NTSB member and ex-Chairman Christopher Hart (L) and Professor Najmedin Meshkati (R) of the Daniel J. Epstein Industrial and Systems Engineering Department. Photo/Courtesy of Shelly Lewis

After declining for several years, the number of fatalities on our streets and highways has recently begun to increase, and the most recent annual tally exceeds 37,000.  It has been widely reported that 94% of these fatalities are attributable to human error, mostly by a driver. One effort that is gaining momentum to address this unacceptable carnage involves replacing the driver with automation, based upon the theory that removing the driver will eliminate human error.

Automation in various contexts has historically demonstrated the capability to bring about major improvements, not only in safety, but also in productivity, efficiency, and throughput. However, commercial aviation, for example, has been automating for decades, yet airliners without pilots are unlikely any time soon.  This presentation is about many of the challenges associated with replacing drivers with automation on our streets and highways.


Christopher A. Hart is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board, having been nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate in 2009.  He was Vice Chairman from 2009 until April 2014 when he became Acting Chairman, and the President nominated him, and the Senate confirmed him, as Chairman in March 2015.  He is now a Member, having completed his two-year term as Chairman in March 2015.  His five-year term as Member will expire on December 31, 2017.

Member Hart joined the Board after a long career in transportation safety, including a previous term as a Member of the NTSB from 1990 – 1993. Immediately before returning to the Board, he was Deputy Director for Air Traffic Safety Oversight at the Federal Aviation Administration. He was previously the FAA Assistant Administrator for the Office of System Safety, and before moving to the FAA he served as Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

From 1973 until joining the Board in 1990, Member Hart held a series of legal positions, mostly in the private sector. He holds a law degree from Harvard University and Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University. He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar and the Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association.

Member Hart is a licensed pilot with commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings.

Member Hart’s family has a tradition of accomplishment in the field of transportation. His great uncle, James Herman Banning, was the first African-American to receive a pilot’s license issued by the United States Government in 1926.

Published on December 1st, 2017

Last updated on April 8th, 2021