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Trump Cuts National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Budget

In Silicon Valley and in Detroit, corporations are coming up with technologies to put a new generation of cars and trucks on the road that are driven by computer programs rather than by human beings. There is great potential for energy efficiency in this technological shift, but also a great potential for new safety hazards if adequate research isn’t done.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is tasked with conducting research into the safety of driverless cars and trucks – but Donald Trump is sharply reducing funding for such research, just when it’s needed most.

In a hearing of the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, Heidi King, who was appointed by Donald Trump to be the Deputy Administrator of the NHTSA, tried to defend

Congressman Frank Pallone warned that, “NHTSA is overwhelmed, Ms. King, and yet President Trump’s budget request proposes a drop in funding for NHTSA’s operations in research from $179 million to $152 million.”

King said that budget cuts to safety research wouldn’t affect the quality of safety research at the NHTSA, but Pallone responded with more information. He warned, “NHTSA’s 2016 budget identified a critical need for more staffing, noting that the Office of Defect Investigations had fewer than 20 investigators for 250 million vehicles equipped with increasingly complex technologies, but your 2018 budget estimate actually proposes a cut to ODI’s funding.”

Pallone also pointed out that, despite King’s claim that the NHTSA could adequately uphold its responsibility of researching safety needs as driverless cars and trucks move onto America’s roads, the NHTSA is actually far behind schedule in its update of the New Car Assessment Program to enable it to provide the American public with vital information about the safety of driverless vehicles. The delays in the NHTSA’s work with the New Car Assessment Program include problems completing new standards for protection of pedestrians from driverless cars.

So, America is hurtling into an uncertain future in which computer programs are controlling cars at high speeds as they encounter pedestrians, but it’s at precisely at this precarious moment in history that Donald Trump is proposing to cut funding for research to ensure that these computer programs won’t end up killing us as we walk down the street.

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