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Luddite Regulators Holding Back Transportation Revolution


Driverless cars are poised to transform the way we live, but in the meantime, chicken-fed regulators are doing their best to choke state innovation. Google co-founder Sergey Brin explains in the WSJ that legal uncertainty, not technology, is now the main obstacle to the driverless car revolution:

If it weren’t for fear among innovators of getting too far ahead of U.S. laws and regulations, there would already be cars on the road doing almost as much driving as humans. […]

California, Nevada and Florida made it legal to operate self-driving cars on public roads two years ago. Google’s fleet has since traversed more than 435,000 miles in cities and on highways without causing an accident. Still, regulators are nervous. During congressional hearings in May, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W. Va.) cited the possibility of cyberattacks: “Can some 14-year-old in Indonesia figure out how to do this and just shut your car down?”

In June, the U.S. Department of Transportation applied the brakes, invoking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s power to regulate vehicle safety. The federal rules let states allow limited tests of self-driving cars, but no sales.

To be sure, when driverless cars are finally legalized, sold, and revolutionize human transportation, safety hiccups will be inevitable. There will be accidents, perhaps even fatal ones, as the technology works itself out. But a world of driverless cars will ultimately be a much safer one than the one we have now. No improvements in human nature seem to be making texting teenagers or drunk drivers any less of a threat to others on the road. But improvements in driverless car technology may one day make the danger of car accidents—the top killer of teenagers in the US—a thing of the past.

[Driverless Google car image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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  • Andrew Allison

    Referring to the vehicles as “driveless” will inhibit their adoption. Please note from the photo what Google, correctly, calls these vehicles.

  • Fat_Man

    Actually I see driverless cars on the highway all the time. To be sure there are people behind the steering wheels of the car, but they are talking on the phone, applying make-up, eating lunch, reading newspapers, texting, etc., etc.

    Having a computer drive their cars would be a big step forward.

  • robertmeerdahl

    when i remember what happened to Toyota with the Level One Hysteria about sudden acceleration, on the basis of pretty much nothing, I wonder what will happen after a couple of accidents involving self-driving cars

  • rheddles

    I wonder if the Teamsters were involved in the NHTSA decision. Driverless trucks are a much bigger deal than driverless cars. Will driverless trucks be required to rest after 11 hours at the wheel?

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