In the final days of the Obama administration, the Department of Transportation formed a committee to advise on the emerging technology of self-driving cars. For whatever reason, the Trump administration didn’t see the point.
The committee included a number of prominent business leaders, politicians, and academics including GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Zipcar founder Robin Chase, and Duke University researcher Mary “Missy” Cummings. The committee leaned industry-heavy—with Waymo, Uber, Amazon, Lyft, Zoox and Apple all represented—but it gave the industry’s most prominent voices a seat at the table to help regulators come up with informed policies.
And now, it’s gone. According to The Verge, Trump’s DOT quietly nixed the committee. So quietly, in fact, that many of its members didn’t even know it no longer existed:
The committee held its lone meeting on January 16th, 2017, four days before Trump’s inauguration. The DOT never called the committee to meet again, and the press release detailing it was scrubbed from the DOT’s website sometime around April of this year, according to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
As The Verge’s Sean O’Kane noted in its report, some of the committee members found out it no longer existed when he reached out to them for comment.
DOT’s stated reason for shutting the committee down, according to The Verge, was cost. That makes little sense, considering almost all of the $41,244 spent on the group went towards the federal staff that supported it. For comparison, that’s almost $35,000 less than this administration spent on hotel rooms in Dubai for the security staff guarding President Trump’s two adult sons as they opened a new golf course.
Nor does this make much sense from a strategic perspective, considering the group was certainly far from hostile to the self-driving car industry. Hell, it basically was the self-driving car industry, plus a bunch of very smart people who study it.
Nor is killing the committee a business-friendly move, since one of the elements sorely lacking from the self-driving car landscape is regulatory consistency. DOT could have played a major role in changing that. Instead, it has largely kicked the issue to the states.
And it’s far from clear that’s good for self-driving car companies. Much like fuel economy, the best thing for businesses would be a set of clear, predictable regulations that apply to all states off which they can formulate long-term strategies. At least as far as automakers are concerned, this administration’s particular brand of anti-federalism doesn’t seem to be business-friendly at all.