By Melanie Zanona – 12/04/16 08:30 AM EST
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Transportation secretary is receiving praise from one area of the auto world: the driverless car industry.
The industry is salivating over Elaine Chao’s light touch when it comes to regulations and her vocal support for the ride-sharing economy.
“We’re expecting she hits the ground running. She has the background, knowledge, skills and capability,” said Paul Brubaker, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance for Transportation Innovation.
“She has a keen understanding that technology presents a great opportunity to … create new mobility paradigms,” he said.
Chao ran the Department of Labor under George W. Bush and served as deputy Transportation secretary in the George H.W. Bush administration. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
If confirmed for the position by the Senate, Chao would also play a pivotal role in overseeing the deployment and operation of self-driving vehicles.
Chao’s likely appointment will come at a time when the emerging industry is still working to test and build driverless cars. Companies like Google and Uber are already testing autonomous vehicles on the streets, and some automakers hope to build fully driverless cars in the next few years.
“[W]e welcome the opportunity to work with her on bringing the safety and mobility benefits of fully self-driving vehicles to America’s roads and highways,” said David Strickland, general counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.
“There’s an opportunity to lead on this issue, and I suspect that they’re going to embrace that opportunity and make this a legacy,” Brubaker said.
Her nomination also puts a spotlight on transportation regulation.
Automakers and technology firms have long expressed concern that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would enforce regulations in a way that hampers innovation and have pleaded with the agency for more flexibility.
The NHTSA unveiled voluntary guidelines in September, but said it intends to eventually take the 15-point safety checklist through the formal rulemaking process.
Chao could represent a change in direction.
During her tenure at the Department of Labor, for example, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn’t issue any major safety regulations.
“You can expect to see her take a very light touch. I think you could characterize her as a reluctant regulator,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“She has certainly in the past demonstrated a strong commitment to letting the markets function as they will,” added McGarity, who authored “Freedom to Harm,” a book about the Labor Department when Chao was there.