Trump's No Fan of Autonomous Vehicles, Like Most Other People

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
trumps no fan of autonomous vehicles like most other people

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 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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  • RS RS on Mar 19, 2019

    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.

  • Lon888 Lon888 on Mar 19, 2019

    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.

  • Tailpipe Tommy Ask Tyler Hoover, Jason Cammisa, Joe Raiti, Sreten @ M539 Restorations (he's really spectacular), and oh yeah, that Doug DeMuro cat. For better or worse, automotive journalism has moved to YouTube.
  • Ajla A lot of journos liked to sh*t on the NAG1 but I never had an issue with its performance and the forums don't really show it as a trouble spot by the time it got into these. It probably needed just a touch shorter gearing in base form (I think the Magnum offered that on a tow package and the Charger offered it with a performance package or Daytona trim).
  • Fahrvergnugen NA Miata goes topless as long as roads are dry and heater is running, windscreen in place.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic As a side note, have you looked at a Consumers Report lately? In the past, they would compare 3 or 4 station wagons, or compact SUVs, or sedans per edition. Now, auto reporting is reduced to a report on one single vehicle in the entire edition. I guess CR realized that cars are not as important as they once were.
  • Fred Private equity is only concerned with making money. Not in content. The only way to deal with it, is to choose your sites wisely. Even that doesn't work out. Just look at AM/FM radio for a failing business model that is dominated by a few large corporations.
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