Car lobby: Trump will ‘put a stamp’ on driverless rules

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The group that lobbies for automakers in Washington predicted Tuesday that president-elect Donald Trump will “put a stamp” on proposed regulations for self-driving cars.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers president Mitch Bainwol said Trump is likely to keep in place the Obama administration’s proposed self-driving guidelines that call for automakers and technology companies to voluntarily report on testing and safety of autonomous cars to federal regulators before the cars are sold to the public.

“We fully expect the Trump administration to put a stamp on this policy,” he said in testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Congress ought to as well.”

The Transportation Department’s proposed self-driving rules focus on a set of 15 guidelines for automakers and technology companies. Before self-driving cars are allowed on U.S. roads, automakers would be required to report how they were tested, how the systems work and what happens if those systems fail.

Safety advocates are concerned Trump will put the brakes on the standards in an effort to reduce the number of federal regulations that are impacting businesses.

Bainwol’s group represents Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., BMW Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Car USA in Washington. He said the federal government is going to have to play a role in regulating development of self-driving cars.

“The feds have traditionally regulated the car; the states the driver,” he told the panel. “With autonomy, the car is driver, and that in essence creates static between federal and states’ obligations.”

Other advocates for autonomous vehicles also sought to defend the Obama administration’s proposed self-driving rules on Tuesday.

“For 50 years, our approach has largely been reactive. NHTSA has prescribed safety standards, and then responds to problems as they arise,” outgoing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind said to members of the Republican-led panel.

“A traditional approach to regulating these new technologies would be to engage solely in rule-making process, writing new regulations that prescribe specific standards, and typically take years to take effect,” he continued. “Our view is that approach would be slow. It would stymie innovation and it would stall the introduction of these new safety technologies.”

Lawmakers on the panel agreed that self-driving cars could potentially bring down the number of accidents, but they questioned how close the technology is to be ready for the mass market.

“Our job is to be really smart and identify a path forward where the government can provide a cop on the beat for the industry and respond quickly where safety incidents arise,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said. “But we cannot let government paralyze the very innovation that promises to make us safer.”

Democrats, meanwhile, pressed for NHTSA to continue playing a big role in regulation of self-driving cars.

“A car without a human driver could be an exciting development, or a frightening proposition,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said. “Which one it is depends on whether we take the correct approach to the development of this technology.”

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle touted legislation that was approved by the state Legislature last week that paves the way for companies to roll out autonomous cars on Michigan’s roads with few limits.

He told the panel, “Chiefly, the bills do these things: They allow for complete autonomous operations on any road at any time without a special license; they allow for truck platooning; they allow on-demand automated networks, which are driverless Ubers (and) driverless Lyfts; and it creates a council on future mobility made up of industry participants from a broad range.”

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said the auto industry is ripe for disruption in the form of self-driving cars.

“Our member companies are fundamentally revolutionizing the transportation network and are well on the way to making self-driving vehicles a reality,” he said. “Perfection may be an unreachable goal, but any significant improvement over the status quo of 35,000 annual deaths should be welcome.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing