The US government’s self-driving car council has fallen apart under Trump

 In Science
Appearing at a gathering of U.S. governors this February, the Trump administration’s top transportation official pledged she would work swiftly to help put more self-driving cars on the country’s roads.

“There’s a lot at stake in getting this technology right,” Secretary Elaine Chao stressed at the time.

Six months later, however, the Trump administration has essentially pumped the brakes on some efforts to advance technology that could redefine how Americans travel, reduce traffic congestion and save lives.

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As tech and auto giants forge ahead in testing and developing driverless vehicles, the U.S. government is still lacking a number of key safety regulators to oversee and study the nascent industry. Meanwhile, a key federal advisory board focused on driverless-car technology — a committee comprised of top executives from Apple, Ford, GM, Lyft and other tech and auto giants — has fallen entirely inactive, four sources told Recode.

The so-called Federal Committee on Automation held its first meeting on Jan. 16, days before former President Barack Obama left office. Since then, though, the group led by Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, and Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, hasn’t met once, the sources said.

A spokesman for Lyft said the company’s president, John Zimmer, actually resigned his seat at the table “a while back.” That happened before a score of business leaders fled two White House-backed corporate advisory boards, citing Trump’s controversial comments about a neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Va.

A spokeswoman for Google-owned Waymo, meanwhile, said they believe the Obama-era task force is not active under Trump.

And a spokesman for the Department of Transportation said in July the agency was “still reviewing its options for how best to utilize the Committee going forward and on what specific scope the Committee should focus.”

In follow-up emails this week, the aide referred Recode back to the DOT’s previous comments.

On one hand, the slow lane for self-driving cars isn’t totally unexpected, as the Trump administration continues to chart its course in major transportation policy debates and decides which federal programs to keep or replace.

But the snail’s pace of its policymaking efforts stands in stark contrast to the all-out blitz on Capitol Hill. Last month, a committee of House lawmakers advanced a bill that would help companies like GM and Google seek more exemptions to federal safety rules, perhaps allowing them the ability to test as many as 100,000 experimental self-driving cars in the United States. The Senate is working on a similar measure.

And that’s where some of the Trump administration’s troubles began.

As the House debated its legislation, starting in June, they had to do so without first fielding testimony from the U.S. government’s leading transportation watchdog, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That’s because Trump had not nominated anyone to the post at the time — and still, in late August, the president has failed to select a candidate.

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