Self-Driving Cars Are Here, But The Feds Still Haven’t Decided The Rules Of The Road
Article Published by: forbes
Innovation loathes regulation. Nowhere is that more evident than in the race to deploy self-driving cars.
So far Trumpworld is obliging.
In keeping with the administration’s deregulatory binge, the U.S. Department of Transportation has set forth “a nonregulatory approach to automated vehicle technology safety.”
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s philosophy seems to be drawn straight from the poets in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland.” They “don’t write nothing at all. They just stand back and let it all be.”
In other words, states are free to set their own rules. So, when General Motors in January told the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration it wanted to test its newest generation of autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs without steering wheels or pedals for accelerating or braking, there were already seven states that have said they would welcome such vehicles.
But first, NHTSA must revise or eliminate current federal vehicle safety standards that require compliance through tests with a human driver, as manual controls for steering, acceleration and braking.
Two months later, GM’s request sits before NHTSA, an agency that still doesn’t have a permanent administrator.
Two U.S. Senators – Gary Peters, D-Mich., and John Thune, R-S.D.—have introduced a bill that would remove those current requirements for manual controls. But five Democrats – Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tom Udall and Ed Markey – raised concerns that the proposal “not interfere with traffic laws and other traditional state or local responsibilities.”
They also cited a January incident in which a Tesla, operating in Autopilot mode, ran into a Culver City fire engine.
For better or worse, states are making the rules as they go along. Those decisions reflect a delicate balance between the economic development benefit of encouraging a new technology and ensuring public safety.
Arizona last month greenlighted Waymo’s first commercial ride-hailing AVs in the Phoenix area. General Motors-Cruise Automation, Uber and others aren’t far behind.
California, which already has issued self-driving test permits to 52 companies, is expected to allow self-driving vehicles without drivers to begin testing on public roads as early as April.
Some existing auto safety regulations should be scrapped or substantially revised to reflect the pace of technological progress.
Marc Scribner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said that more than half of 257 existing vehicle safety standards were drafted before 1980.
Yet certain regulations have expedited self-driving technology at least as much as the “test-here-in-any-circumstances” stance many states are taking.
For example, the Obama administration’s ambitious fuel economy standards, passed in the wake of the taxpayer bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, encouraged major investments in electrified powertrains, the engineering foundation of autonomous cars.
This is not a question of supporting or opposing progress. There’s strong evidence, based on testing, that self-driving vehicles have potential to prevent many of 94% of vehicle crashes caused by human error.
To be sure, there are issues in the early testing. Since October 2014, the California DMV has received 59 collision reports involving autonomous vehicles. Most were minor, not even rising to the level of fender-benders, but many are caused by human drivers not anticipating the self-driving maneuver.
Any contact can do damage, especially to the dozens of sensors positioned around any autonomous vehicle.
Then there are the unforeseen cultural clashes.
In late January a San Francisco taxi driver stopped in front of a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt. According to the accident report, “the driver of the taxi exited his vehicle, approached the Cruise AV, and slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch.” No one was injured and neither the taxi driver or the Cruise driver called police.
Another incident about four weeks earlier in San Francisco involved a pedestrian who attacked the Cruise AV, striking the left rear bumper and hatch with his entire body, damaging a tail light. No one was injured and no once called police.
We are entering unchartered streets.
In the Coen Brothers classic “The Big Lebowski,” Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) has an outburst when he alleges a bowling opponent stepped over the line before releasing his ball.
“Am I the only one around here who gives a s___ about the rules,” Walter shouts.
Walter needed to calm down, but to build public trust in the benefits of autonomous mobility we first have to thoughtfully craft some rules.
About Jaime Bonetti Zeller
Jaime Bonetti Zeller is an investment professional and entrepreneur with businesses in multiple industries. He is president of Servicios Consulares Eurodom, the local partner in the Caribbean region for VFS Global, a leader global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide. Jaime Bonetti Zeller also started the company Sofratesa de Panama inc., an organization in the engineering services industry located in Panama City.