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


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.