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Guest editorial: Remove high-tech speed bumps
There is fierce competition to develop driverless vehicles, and a House bill may help speed its development — with some strings.
There is much excitement over autonomous vehicles, but, as is their nature, politicians and bureaucrats have already begun to stifle driverless innovations with various regulations and mandates.
Auto manufacturers were not exactly thrilled, for example, when the California Department of Motor Vehicles, after several long years of study and hearings, finally released its rules early this year.
“The draft regulations would erect significant barriers to testing and adoption of autonomous vehicles that do not exist in any other state,” an Association of Global Automakers representative told DMV officials at a hearing, the Los Angeles Times reported in January. “We are concerned that the state may be closing the door to innovation.”
Meanwhile, states like Michigan, Florida, Arizona and Nevada have adopted much more permissive systems. Not surprisingly, these states have reaped the benefits, such as when Uber shipped driverless test cars from San Francisco to Arizona due to California’s onerous permit requirements.
Auto manufacturers in heavier-regulated states like California may gain some relief, however, from H.R.3388, known as the SELF DRIVE Act. The bill, passed yesterday by the House on a voice vote, aims to speed the development and deployment of driverless vehicles by preventing states from imposing certain restrictions on them and creating a patchwork of differing regulations. States would maintain control over things like licensing, registration, liability insurance and safety and emissions inspections, however. In addition, H.R.3388 would initially exempt up to 25,000 vehicles from federal safety standards — which might need to be changed due to the lack of a human driver — and 100,000 within another two years.
In typical government fashion, however, the bill’s authors couldn’t resist making other demands, like requiring manufacturers to adopt and publicize cybersecurity and privacy policies, mandating technology to alert drivers if a child is left in the back seat, and possibly adopting performance standards for headlights. The Transportation Department will likely issue further regulations as well. Yet, government regulations are notorious for their inability to keep up with technology, which is especially true in such a rapidly changing and developing technology as autonomous vehicles.
As for security and privacy, the government may not have the greatest credibility, considering the WikiLeaks revelations in March that the CIA has been working on hacking vehicles’ computer and entertainment systems, which could potentially enable the agency to track a vehicle’s location, listen to conversations or even take control of the vehicle.
Driverless vehicle technology offers many potential benefits, from improving congestion to significantly reducing accidents (more than 90 percent of which are due to driver error) and offering greater transportation options to the elderly, the blind and others who are unable to drive. Like other complex innovations, it will not be without its bumps, but, recognizing that auto companies will not get ahead by harming their customers, governments at all levels should get out of the way and remove regulatory impediments to speed both the development of the technology and the correction of the problems that will inevitably arise.
Orange County Register, Sept. 6