Despite voting overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, driverless car firms are overjoyed with President-elect Trump’s pick for Transportation secretary.
Highly regarded in Washington, especially among Republicans, Elaine Chao is well-known for her hands-off, free-market approach.
Chao will hold great power over how autonomous vehicles will be regulated – or not.
‘We’d like to see her continue with her track record of light regulation,’ said Grayson Brulte of Brulte & Co., an innovation advisory and consulting firm, to the LA Times. ‘If she allows forward thinking entrepreneurs to build on the platforms that are autonomous vehicles, we’ll unleash an economic boom that will create huge numbers of jobs.’
At the top of her homepage, she describes herself with a 2003 quote from Newsweek: ‘Elaine Chao – as slender as a stiletto, and as steely.’
Consumer advocates even give her cautious praise. Consumer Watchdog director John Simpson said: ‘I’m concerned about her general anti-regulatory approach, but even though I disagree with her philosophy, I would say she is clearly qualified for the position.’
Formerly secretary of Labor under George W Bush, Chao pushed for less federal regulation and was criticised for allegedly not enforcing certain current regulations, for example overtime rules for wage earners.
With safety the greatest concern, Chao must balance regulations that protect the public without them acting to impede innovation.
However, with autonomous vehicles she cannot take the same deregulatory approach, since few federal laws on autonomous vehicles are in existence. Key exceptions are that a driver must currently be at the wheel to take control, and that a car is not allowed on the road without a steering wheel or brake pedal – which currently blocks Google’s driverless plans. However, these early rules are expected to change with time.
The autonomous industry also wants more clarity on the real-world testing of driverless vehicles on public roads, with states currently allowed to test such cars on for example a closed business campus or dedicated highway lane.
Meanwhile, undercurrents over the use of autonomous car data continue, with Uber currently lobbying Pensylvania to prevent the state’s access to the data hampering the testing of autonomous vehicles.
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