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.]