By on March 18, 2019

Donald Trump apparently belongs to the 71 percent of Americans who remain averse to the thought of riding in self-driving cars. It’s a position that appears to be incongruous with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s deregulation strategy. But there’s always a little room for someone’s personal preference to exist in tandem with public policy. At least, there used to be.

Considering the president’s involvement in American industrial matters routinely make him the central focus of auto-related topics, we’ll keep this one relatively brief. But the accompanying details of this story are too interesting to simply ignore. 

According to Axios, Donald Trump has shared his negative opinion on self-driving cars on several occasions. The report claims he has acted out scenes of self-driving cars careening out of control and crashing into things. He also doesn’t believe autonomous vehicles make a lot of sense in general, according to four sources who claim to have heard him discussing the issue.

From Axios:

“You know when he’s telling a story, and he does the hand motions,” said a source who has heard Trump talk about hypothetical accidents involving self-driving cars. “He says, ‘Can you imagine, you’re sitting in the back seat and all of a sudden this car is zig-zagging around the corner and you can’t stop the f—ing [sic] thing?'”

“He’s definitely an automated car skeptic,” the source said. Another source said Trump told him self-driving cars “will never work.”

There was also an account of Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Trump discussing Tesla’s Autopilot technology within the confines of the White House’s Roosevelt Room back in 2017. Trump allegedly informed Musk he preferred more traditional cars. Later that summer, a member of the Bedminster golf club excitedly told the president about their new Tesla as the conversation shifted toward autonomous vehicles.

“And [Trump] was like, ‘Yeah that’s cool but I would never get in a self-driving car … I don’t trust some computer to drive me around,'” the individual recounted.

While we’re not going to go on a rant about how people are still mistakenly under the impression that certain automakers are selling autonomous vehicles, we are willing to say that Trump seems decidedly against AVs.

However, his administration continues to promote their development. The NHTSA has pursued a lax approach to regulating advanced driving aids in the past and hopes to get the public’s take on whether or not they’d even accept a car sans a steering wheel or other human controls — now that General Motors has petitioned them to do so. This is likely the result of there, presumably, being a strong business case for the technology’s proliferation. But the general issue is muddled beyond belief. While tech companies are advancing these systems much faster than they can be regulated, it’s unclear how close they are to the finish line… or even how we would know if they were. Right now, the whole endeavor looks a lot like a money pit with the (possible) promise of future dividends.

Meanwhile, a series of high-profile crashes involving vehicles using advanced driving aids or test-bed autonomous software has shaken the public’s already lukewarm confidence in AVs over the past two years. The recent bout of automated air disasters from Boeing hasn’t helped.

Automakers, like General Motors, are now waiting on the NHTSA to issue exemptions from admittedly outdated U.S. vehicle safety rules. But it’s hesitant to push for anything too bold with the public so adverse to the idea of self-driving cars. If you want to give your opinion on AVs, the agency is accepting public comments for the next two months.

[Image: Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock]

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50 Comments on “Trump’s No Fan of Autonomous Vehicles, Like Most Other People...”


  • avatar
    James Charles

    Yup, 120 years ago doctors claimed a person in a vehicle travelling at speeds greater than 15mph in a car would die (don’t know why train travel was different).

    120 years ago vehicles were limited to 5mph, because of safety and frightening horses and livestock.

    Maybe we can limit the speed of autonomous vehicles to 25mph so not to scare the Luddites. Limiting them to 5mph is an overkill.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      This, of course, is all true – but… it *doesn’t* mean that any *given* technological innovation is practical. Witness seventy solid years of Popular Mechanics covers heralding the age of the blimp — really, honestly, this time it’s going to be great! — and similar hype about flying cars. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a luddite if the stuff you want to do just won’t work.

      Time will tell whether faSDVs fall into that category, and the President may not be the best possible ambassador for faSDV skepticism, but dismissing anyone who has reservations about the practicality of a given technology as, by definition, a visionless fogey is ill-advised.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “This, of course, is all true – but… it *doesn’t* mean that any *given* technological innovation is practical.”

        hell, just witness Bitcoin/cryptocurrencies. all sorts of different ones out there, but when you ask advocates what they’re actually good for all they can do is natter on about details about *how* they work, and which details makes their favorite one better.

        The question none of them can ever answer is “why would anyone use this as money?” they just sputter “fiat,” or “decentralization,” or “Venezuela!”

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Being skeptical of things that can kill you is not Luddism, its common sense. Luddism is originally the sabotage of things that can take your job away because they work properly. Does Tesla’s AV software/sensor suite meet that criteria? If you drive your Tesla on roads with contradictory lane markings, please let us know which funeral home to send flowers to.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “Luddism is originally the sabotage of things that can take your job away because they work properly. Does Tesla’s AV software/sensor suite meet that criteria?”

        Absolutely. Well not my job per see, but the jobs of millions of truck drivers and taxi drivers could certainly become obsolete — and everyone except the truck/taxi drivers will benefit from lower prices and increased economic efficiency.

        Now, the question is is what all of those truck drivers are supposed to do, especially because their unemployment would benefit us all by dramatically lowering transportation costs. I have an answer, but a lot of you guys are not going to like it.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Two weeks ago, Boeing engineers said the MAX was safe.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Aero engineers already know how to build redundant systems and good AOA sensors and fly-by-wire features.

        Assuming the rumors are true, Boeing just chose not to do so with the 737 Max-8 — presumably as a cost cutting measure.

        That’s far worse, morally speaking, than just pushing the limits.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Because Trump’s college records have been sequestered, we’ll never know for certain whether his many areas of expertise include that of autonomous vehicles.

  • avatar
    Roader

    “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
    Attributed to Henry Ford

  • avatar
    cdotson

    The whole Autopilot thing worked out great for the 737 Max-8.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Far more sophisticated fly-by-wire systems work just fine on Airbus aircraft.

      If the rumors about what happened with the 737 Max-8 are true, then Boeing failed to follow standard engineering practices on the MCAS system, which is designed to prevent the airplane’s wing from stalling (it handles a corner case of the flight envelope which is only likely to be encountered if the pilot makes a serious mistake). The MCAS controls the trim on the aircraft (not the actual controls) — butnthe nose down trim (which moves the front half of the horizontal stabilizer) is so powerful at the extremes of its range that it can overpower the elevator flight control.

      Now, the rumors is that the 737 Max 8 has two pitot tolubes with AOA sensors (which can tell if the airplane wing is stalling), but its computer only listens to ONE AOA SENSOR AT A TIME. Now, if the AOA sensor fails, the MCAS computer thinks the aircraft is stilling and will shove the nose down post-haste (as all student pilots are taught to do). However, if the aircraft is actually climbing out as normal and a faulty AOA sensor convinces the MCAS computer to shove the nose down post-haste, the pilot only.has a few seconds to understand and fix the problem before he/she and everyone on board dies. Again, this is all rumor and speculation.

      So, how do you fix this? Make the MCAS computer listen to both AOA sensors, and make it throw the airliner equivelent of a check engine light (and disable the MCAS system) if they disagree.

      This is a deadly flight controls engineering f*ckup that aero engineering students will be taught for decades.

      If the highly technical rumors are true, the engineering f*ckup I described above does not undermine the concept of automation in vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        “Far more sophisticated fly-by-wire systems work just fine on Airbus aircraft.”

        But first, there were multiple crashes

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Interesting on the MAX 8. I also researched a bit and there are stories about how the engines were moved in order to improve ground clearance between the engines and the runway. This, in turn caused other engineering compromises that allowed for other flight control problems to crop up. To be fair, this is not uncommon in engineering – the Concorde was full of such issues during development. As for Airbus fly-by-wire controls, the MAX 8 is a derivative of the original design 737 from decades ago. Nothing is interchangeable for sure, but some design parameters (that ground clearance issue for example) carry on. Kind of like a new LT1 engine sharing the bank angle and bore spacing of the 1955 small block Chevy. Regardless, the MAX is not a cutting edge jet like the 787 is. You are not likely to hear any comments from Airbus in public. These companies know that sooner or later they will be the one in the public spotlight.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            yeah, the 737 originally had the same (much smaller diameter) low-bypass engines as the 727 and DC-9.

      • 0 avatar
        Blackcloud_9

        Thank you for the concise, reasoned answer.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        Luke42,
        AoA measure angle of attack (nose up to nose down attitude). Pitot tubes measure air pressure. Below is an atypical flyby wire system.

        AoA sensors are in pairs. If one sensor fails the pilot would be forced to land at the nearest airport. To have two sensors fail at once would be improbable. From what I can gather there is no evidence of AoA probe failures. The AoA probes used would most likely be used on multiple airframes.

        Upstream from the sensors the AoA signal (analogue from a RVDT) is sent to a SDC (signal data converter) were the signal (electrical resistance) is converted from analogue into digital. The signal in this case is electrical resistance and the value of then resistance can be measured, digitised and converted into degrees and recorded for future use (maintenance) if required.

        From here it is sent to the FCC (flight control computer). FCCs are in pairs for redudancy purposes and within each FCC multiple channels are used again to further increase redundancy.

        The two (or how ever many) FCCs are constantly measuring a massive amount of input on the aircraft’s attitude, airspeed, altitude (pressure affects airflow).

        This constant evaluation of all components in the airframe would be verifying and validating the AoA probes. The software is designed to detect which AoA probe is failing, by measuring all flight control surfaces, airspeed, pressure, etc.

        To me I really can’t see a single issue other than poor design and engineering with a lack of redundancy designed in the MCAS system.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        Oh, Luke42,
        I see the MCAS as an independent system with the authority to over ride the fly by wire system. This has proven to be dangerous.

        The problem is there is insufficient or nonexistent redundancy in the MCAS. There is little verification of the input from MCAS on its effect on maintaining control of the aircraft. It constantly over rides FCCs and pilot input.

        So, looking at this issue the MCAS is an after thought of design, coupled with lax risk assessing to reduce testing and save time has caused this.

        I think self regulation needs to be investigated. When billions are involved poor judgement is found.

        MCAS needs redundancy

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      cdotson,
      I think you’ll find you just can’t simplify and place the Boeing Max issue as a fly by wire or auto pilot issue.

      1. The CFM engines fitted to the Max were designed for a different airframe. They were too large for the 737.

      2. Decisions were made that increased the risk of catastrophic failure. The first poor decision was to fit the CFM engines as the best possible outcome was to increase instability into the flight characteristics of the aircraft. The second was a risk assessment was performed which provided a false outcome. The risk assessment is similar to any safety assessment which uses a matrix which has consequence and likelyhood on a X and Y axis. Simple, effective and accurate if used correctly.

      Now, fitting the oversize CFM Airbus Neo engine generated a pitch problem which required a constant trimming solution. This is an easy solution as fighter aircraft have been using this technology since the late 70s. Fighters are design to be as unstable as possible to improve their flight envelope

      The risk assessment carried out by Boeing for this change indicated the likelyhood of an event was marginal, which can be okay, by the consequence was catastrophic.

      I personally believe the decision to downgrade the risk assessment was financially based. I can’t imagine anyone that incompetent at Boeing being unable to accurately risk assess the change to the airframe.

      The 737 evolved over 50 years and this particular variant was already designed to be fitted with different engines. So the flight control system was already in place and the cost to add and change the flight control and related systems would of cost money and pushed back the delivery date od the Max months. Airbus already had a big lead on Boeing with the Neo.

      So a ‘patch’ was designed using an under valued risk assessment to shorten testing to move the aircraft to the customers. There was no redundancy incorporated into this MCAS because the risk assessment graded the change at a low enough risk to negate this.

      The airline companies will see this and I think its unfortunate, but Boeing will take a hit. Boeing is the best US business, but as we see here poor decisions can be made due to money.

  • avatar
    0Gravity

    Zero surprise. Everything new is bad. Planes are too complicated these days. He’d have us using whale oil lamps if it could keep the wind and solar industries from taking away coal’s market share

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Sully Sullenberger editorialized that, for the level of training and documentation provided, the MAX8/9’s are too complicated. From what I’ve read, there isn’t/wasn’t enough pilot awareness of the software, how to understand its response, even in a simulation, and how to disengage it and take control. Another example of misunderstood information is the Air France 447 accident from several years ago. At the very least, Boeing’s software update will do a better job of interacting with pilots.
      ps – if you want to read about some great piloting, search Capt. Al Haynes.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Nuclear power is a perfect example of a fantastic technology held back by terrified Luddites.

  • avatar
    jatz

    People are complex and every schitthead has an occasional correct opinion. Obonobo’s fave food is pizza, for example.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Comparing Obama to a bonobo is racist.

      Disliking Obama is fine. But that comparing a man to a an oversexed monkey is racist both because of the imagery, and because it #includes a lot of historical and hateful imagery into the current conversation.

      I know calling you out as a racist will offend you. I know calling you out this way goes against the right wing’s version of political correctness. But, hey, you guys want political correctness to go away, right? So I’ll ignoring your feelings and telling it to you straight, without changing the word to make you feel better. That’s what you guys want, right?

      P.S. I am still emberassed to have been one of George “Macaca” Allen’s constituents. Same kind of thing, except that the recipient of the racist abuse was a graduate student with an interest in politics who was filming Allen’s public comments.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    “The report claims he has acted out scenes of self-driving cars careening out of control and crashing into things.”

    Or in other words, re-enacted his presidency.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    How’s that HondaSuite of sensors with acronyms too hard to desipher working for you? Never any false positives? You’re lucky. The TSR in at least one Accord is useless – how do I know? I drove it.

    Using junk sensors with uninformed software developed in a donkey cart country offshore on the cheap, feeding some hunk of super-patched prototype autonomous software that could really stand a rewrite from top to bottom, yeah I’ll go for a ride tomorrow in a snow storm. bring it on, baby.

    As for Trump’s utterances, a man who sometimes comes to correct conclusions despite using logic never seen before nor since, well, it gives a reason to write another post on autonomous driving on a slow day.

  • avatar
    TS020

    Waymo CEO: “Full autonomous will never happen”

    Waaaay too many variables and decisions that require context to make on the road. Not saying it will never happen, but we’re nowhere near as close to AV as people think.

  • avatar
    Nigel Shiftright

    The whole point of an autonomous vehicle is that I can take a nap, or watch a movie, or play gin rummy with the person sitting next to me.

    If I have to keep my eyes on the road and be ready to take control, then screw it, I’d just as soon be the driver.

    And I don’t think we’ll ever get to take-a-nap mode unless we restructure our traffic laws and insurance industry to take all the liability away from the car’s occupants, handing it to the manufacturers and programmers. Please don’t hold your breath waiting for that.

    And as for Trump, I sure hope he doesn’t ever come out in favor of drinking several glasses of water each day. Millions of knee-jerks would die of thirst.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      And as for Trump, I sure hope he doesn’t ever come out in favor of drinking several glasses of water each day. Millions of knee-jerks would die of thirst.

      Unfortunately your absolutely correct, the people that dislike him seem to go to great lengths to attack him, even jumping through the craziest mental gymnastics.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Trump is a great man. Achiever. He sees the life through walls. You open your mouth and he already knows if you are real or fake. I wish more people were like him instead of those losers that only bark nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      Nigel,
      To placate your autonomous dreams you must realise that the autonomous vehicle rollout will be akin to how autopilot in aircraft was rolled out.

      Autonomous vehicles will develop as technology develops to accommodate advances in the autonomous operating systems. As I pointed out aircraft autopilot was quite rudimentary in its early days and as technologies developed ie, GPS, fly by wire, advanced avionics, etc auto pilot technology was able to interface and use more and more aircraft systems and sub systems. Autopilot also taps into ground and space based systems.

      Motor vehicles will follow the same path of development.

      • 0 avatar
        Nigel Shiftright

        Here we are 70-80 years after the first useful aircraft autopilots and they still aren’t safe enough to allow completely autonomous flight.

        They are just safe enough to do almost everything…but still require the pilots to sit there for hours, bored and distracted, in case of emergency. And they make it hard for the pilots to handle an emergency! (Airbus, 737 Max)

        This isn’t encouraging for the arrival of autonomous road vehicles in my lifetime.

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      Nigel,
      Trumpian supporters will never drink water. They have no requirement for it, they drink Trump KoolAid.

      • 0 avatar
        Nigel Shiftright

        The people who reflexively oppose him are just as mindless as those who reflexively support him.

        I didn’t vote for Trump and I doubt very much I will vote for him next year. But I’ll tell you this – every time I see some actor or singer or comedian on the screen, weeping tears of rage and frustration about Trump, I like the man a little tiny bit more.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “The people who reflexively oppose him are just as mindless as those who reflexively support him.”

          yet you go on to do exactly the latter. The job of president is not to “own the libs.” this “team ball at all costs” is what’s going to ruin this country. we’re split into to opposing sides and we can’t even agree on what REALITY is.

          • 0 avatar
            Nigel Shiftright

            You must have misread what I said.

            There are several Trump policies (tariffs, browbeating companies, willfully ignoring the deficit, increased military spending) which I think are awful.

            I am certainly not a reflexive Trump supporter. I’m more of a green-eyeshade, red-pencil guy when it comes to government.

          • 0 avatar
            cdotson

            “we’re split into to opposing sides and we can’t even agree on what REALITY is”

            To read these comments I think it’s funny you think you’re split into “sides.” You’re really just arguing whether you want ravening psychopaths or sackless cowards to be brown-nosing your globalist overlords. You can choose a side once you figure out what has become the real divide moving forward. Failure to choose is a choice by default.

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            “is what’s going to ruin this country”

            There have been so many of those; British oppression, slavery, divergent economies North/South, Civil War, poor-white immigration, laissez-faire to Depression to FDR to postwar military-industrial and its feeding on global adventurism…. wow

            But the grandaddy of them all is slavery because it’s a time-release disease and its pus is the white guilt felt centuries later by utterly innocent – indeed, self-obliterating – descendants.

  • avatar
    RS

    If an autonomous vehicle can get me to work on a dark 19 below winter morning in a snow storm, I may consider it.

    …because those are the days I least like to drive.

  • avatar
    lon888

    The mentally deficient will always rebuke technology – it scares the crap out of them. You know like the way fire scared the neanderthals. Atra! Atra! Perhaps Trump’s presidency should be called The Quest for Fire Part 2.

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