Self-driving cars are inevitable. The vast majority of car accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, boil down to human error. Either somebody makes a wrong decision in the heat of the moment, or gets behind the wheel after a bender, or is just looking at the radio at the absolute worst possible moment. But as Tesla’s Autopilot accidents and its reactions to them show all too well, Silicon Valley’s tendency to ask for forgiveness rather than permission needs a check, and Obama just laid the groundwork to both make self-driving cars a reality and figure out who’s accountable in accidents.
Obama gets in before the inevitable objections with a fairly crucial point:
There are always those who argue that government should stay out of free enterprise entirely, but I think most Americans would agree we still need rules to keep our air and water clean, and our food and medicine safe. That’s the general principle here. What’s more, the quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies.
He’s not wrong. Despite claims to the contrary, self-driving cars need more work. By the same token, however, right now they can only be tested in a handful of states, making it harder to design them. The new regulations set up a framework that lets self-driving cars travel between states. For those interested in the nitty-gritty, the administration is really only issuing a policy model and it’s not making any suggestions for bodies like the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, on rules to determine. The NHTSA and other bodies will need to solicit the public for that feedback.
That said, it’s some valuable guidance for self-driving cars. It’s unlikely you’ll be seeing a Googlecar with no steering wheel on the road tomorrow; it’s more likely this technology will be implemented in fits and starts, tying into V2V systems and other tools. But make no mistake. Sooner rather than later, your car is going to be driving itself.
(Via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)