Self-driving vehicles

'Self-Driving Cars and Back-Seat Regulators' in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ronald Bailey answers questions on the future of self-driving cars over at TribLive

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SelfDrivingReasonCoverJasonFord
Jason Ford/Reason

The June 2016 issue of Reason featured my article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?" The article begins with this telling testimony at a Senate hearing that suggested that the answer might well be yes.

"So, I'm in the Tesla," Sen. Ben Nelson (D–Fla.) told a March hearing of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. "And we're coming back across the Anacostia River and getting up on—on the bridge then to get on to the ramp on to 395. And I'm instructed in the driver's seat: 'Engage the autonomous switch.' I click it twice. 'Take your hands off the wheel.' And so all of a sudden the car is speeding up and they say: 'It automatically will go with the flow of the vehicles in the front and back.' But now we are approaching the on-ramp on to 395 and it is a sharp turn. And the vehicle is still speeding up. And they said, 'Trust the vehicle.'"

But the senator could not quite manage to do that. "As we approach the concrete wall," he said, "my instincts could not resist. And I grabbed the wheel, touched the brake and took over manual control. I said, 'What would have happened?' They said, 'If you'd left your hands off of the wheel, it would have made that sharp turn and come on around.' And so I am here to tell you that I am glad I grabbed the wheel."

Making the senator's panic even more metaphorically apt was the title of the Senate hearing: "Hands Off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars."

After the article appeared, the folks over at the Pittsburg Tribune Review called me up to ask a few follow up questions. For example:

Q: What do you see ultimately happening when it comes to regulating these vehicles?

A: Regulators try to cover every possible contingency so that nobody can blame them later if anything goes wrong. They're basically dreaming up every possible worst-case scenario and demanding in advance that it be taken care of, which obviously will slow down the technology. That being said, I believe the technology will be so useful and so consumer friendly and so eagerly adopted by people that government officials will have to get out of the way because otherwise consumers will just trample them.

Go here to read the TribLive Q&A.

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  1. “Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?”

    One rare exception to Betteridge’s law of headlines.

  2. These cars are supposed to be self-driving, right? So why would you need a steering wheel? Why would you need a rear-view mirror?

    Uh, what if you’re a teenage girl parked with your best fella up on make-out ridge? What if after pinning you your beau gets out to see what that noise was? How are you going to see the man with the bloody hook lurching up from the rear of the vehicle? What are you going to grip in terror?

    Use your head.

    1. Use your head.

      Works for this:

      How are you going to see the man with the bloody hook lurching up from the rear of the vehicle?

      And I suppose this too:

      What are you going to grip in terror?

      although a little weirdly, unless you’re talking about that other head.

      So what’s your complaint, actually?

  3. I’m surprised the pro-police sections of the Republican party aren’t clamoring for this technology to thwart terrorists using vehicles for the boom boom. Each driverless vehicle will have a bomb detector secretly installed, and when it detects an unapproved wiff of something it simply drops you off at DHS.

    I know that Will Smith ‘iRobot’ film was mostly terrible, but that’s more or less what I imagine driverless cars to be like.

    Of course, the more ‘realistic’ view in the short term is probably the other, slightly less terrible film with the Arnold in ‘The Sixth Day’.

  4. But now we are approaching the on-ramp on to 395 and it is a sharp turn. And the vehicle is still speeding up.

    But how fast was the car actually going into this turn? Is Nelson a typical Florida driver who cannot turn except at 10 mph? Is this exactly as accurate as the recoil from an AR-some number was to a journalist?

    1. Also, I finally subscribed to the magazine for the first time since I moved to Canada and now Canada Post is likely going into a lockout. Coincidence?

  5. Maybe it’s my luddite streak, but more likely I’m still not over the modern police state. I can not get my head around Reason’s continuing romance about cars that are not under the control of their occupant. While this technology might seem great from the standpoint of increased ease of use, it is also a massive opportunity for wholesale surveillance & control of individuals. If past performance is an indicator, the fact that it could be mis-used by any number of state organs means that it will be mis-used.

    1. “While this technology might seem great from the standpoint of increased ease of use, it is also a massive opportunity for wholesale surveillance & control of individuals.”

      Perhaps it’s because the magazine is named Reason and not Black Helicopter Monthly?

      Black Helicopter Monthly : Available in mimeograph only, because we don’t trust machines with government chips in them! And all deliveries via drop site, because you can’t trust the Federal agents in the “Postal” service.

    2. If past performance is an indicator, the fact that it could be mis-used by any number of non-state organs means that it will be mis-used legislators will demand that government controls, reporting, etc., be added for taxation, anti-terrorism, War on Drugs, etc., purposes.

      FTFY

      1. Thank you Payup…., I was trying to come up with a pithy response to JWatts, but your correction and elaborations to my original re-assure me that the Commentariat is not going soft on big brother.

    3. Think like a typical smartphone-zombie and it makes sense: you’d accept the surveillance in exchange for the big discount on car insurance and registration fees.

      1. And sadly, that is why this will become, not just permitted, but required.

  6. Nobody’s looking at this realistically.

    Insurance companies would lead the way on this. They would be happy to give owners of driver-less cars a discount since a self-driving car would eventually be safer than a human-operated one. The operator merely enters a destination, and the car does the all the work to get there.

    However, states will still require drivers licenses to even enter a destination into the car’s computer. This is for two reasons: 1) so the state can sustain its DMV jobs program for cronies, and 2) prevent people under the age of 18 from being able to tell a car where to go thus further enabling helicopter parenting, and 3) expand the DMV to cover both driver-less cars and the “old-Fashioned” driver cars which would eventually be a more difficult license to acquire.

    I would also assume the DMV would establish “fuel savings accounts” so that you car would be able to drive itself to a fuel station as long as the linked account has enough money in it. State control like this is a central planners’ wet dream; they would even let go of the 18-and-over requirement if they had to to get this done.

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