Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will announce new autonomous vehicle guidelines later today.

I will update this post when the guidelines are in, but one thing we know is automakers and testers will have an easier go of things under Trump than Obama.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil on Tuesday streamlined safety guidelines for automakers that want to deploy self-driving vehicles, a person briefed on the matter said Monday, as members of Congress push their own proposals to remove regulatory barriers to the technology.

The new Transportation Department policy is expected to offer the lighter regulatory touch that automakers have pushed for. For example, the Transportation Department is expected to state that automakers do not have to seek approval from regulators before putting self-driving vehicles on the road.

The new document is titled “A Vision for Safety” and will be less than half the length of the Obama administration guidelines released in September 2016 and will be less “burdensome,” the person briefed on the announcement said.

Chao is expected to make the announcement in Ann Arbor at a self-driving testing facility.

The Transportation Department is releasing its voluntary safety standards at the same time a bipartisan coalition in Congress is moving forward on legislation also designed to speed commercialization of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking their deployment.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on a measure to clear legal obstacles that could discourage automakers and technology companies from putting self-driving cars into broader use.

The House measure would allow automakers to field up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year. Over three years, the cap would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually. Automakers would be required to provide regulators with safety assessments of their systems, but would not have to get federal approval to put autonomous cars on the road.

A group of senators introduced a similar draft bill on Friday.

“Hip” Transportation Secretary

Back in January, Wired reported Secretary Seems Pretty DownWith Self-Driving Cars, “down” meaning “hip”.

Chao, who happens to be married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the ur-Washington bureaucrat, a woman described by those on both sides of the aisle as a longtime, competent doer. Not the sort of hoodie-wearing early adopter to embrace world-shaking visions of the future.
And yet, her performance this morning left autonomous vehicle advocates—who fancy themselves as sitting on the bleeding-edge—quietly cheering. “I think today was actually a really good indication that she’s going to keep moving in a positive direction,” says Jamie Boone, who oversees government affairs at the Consumer Technology Association.

In other words: If you’re working on getting—or simply hoping to see—autonomous vehicles on a road near you, expect calm waters ahead. During a three-hour hearing light on specifics and commitments, Chao signaled that she wants testing and experimentation to continue without much federal intervention.

Safety Concerns

In February, Reuters reported Trump Administration Reevaluating Self-Driving Car Guidance.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Sunday she was reviewing self-driving vehicle guidance issued by the Obama administration and urged companies to explain the benefits of automated vehicles to a skeptical public.

Chao, in her first major public remarks since taking office last month, told the National Governors Association: “This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance.”

She said self-driving cars could dramatically improve safety. In 2015, 35,092 people died in U.S. traffic crashes, up 7% and the highest full-year increase since 1966. In the first nine months of 2016, fatalities were up 8 percent.

Chao, noting research that 94% of traffic crashes were due to human error, said: “There’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right.”
She said the Trump administration wanted to ensure it “is a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not an impediment. In particular, I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology.”

Chao said she was “very concerned” about the potential impact of automated vehicles on employment. There are 3.5 million U.S. truck drivers alone and millions of others employed in driving-related occupations.She also said she would seek input from states as regulators develop rules on drones. “We will ask for your input as the (Federal Aviation Administration) develops standards and regulations to ensure that drones can be safely integrated into our country’s airspace,” she said.

Excellent Choice

Chao was an excellent choice for Transportation secretary, arguably Trump’s best cabinet pick.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock