Driverless Cars

Regular Cars Didn't Need Federal Regulation; Neither Do Driverless Vehicles

New federal legislation is more likely to hinder rather than help the development of autonomous vehicles.

|

UberSelfDriving
Uber

A senator once asked the head of Google's self-driving vehicle program what sort of legislation was needed to help his industry. "What we have found in most places is that the best action is to take no action," he replied, adding that "in general the technology can be safely tested today on roads in many states."

Last week a congressional committee ignored that advice and took action.

In a bipartisan vote of 54–0, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has now forwarded the SELF DRIVE Act* for consideration by the full House of Representatives. (The Senate is working on similar legislation.) The bill's goal is to set up a national regulatory framework to encourage the development and deployment of autonomous passenger vehicles. But why does Congress need to get involved with autonomous vehicle development at all? After all, between 1900 and 1965 automakers managed to put tens of millions of non-self-driving vehicles on the road—some 90 million by the mid-1960s—with essentially no interference from the federal government.

The federal government didn't really get into the automobile regulation business until Congress created the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1966. The immediate impetus behind the push to create the new federal automobile safety agency was the publication of Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed Dangers of the American Automobile, which claimed that GM's Corvair had a tendency to roll and therefore was a "one-car accident." In 1972, the very agency that Nader's alarmism conjured into existence issued a report finding that the "Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests…the handling and stability performance of the 1960–63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." In other words, federal automobile regulation was founded on activist misinformation.

Prior to 1966, automobiles somehow got fitted with such safety equipment as windshield wipers, headlights, and turn signals without federal intervention. (In 1939, Buick became the first U.S. automaker to offer factory-installed flashing turn signals.) Industry standards were generally devised not by bureaucrats but by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

On the postive side, the SELF DRIVE Act would preempt states from adopting their own rules for regulating "highly automated vehicles, automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems." A year ago, the California Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a draft regulation that would require all self-driving cars to have steering wheels, pedals, and a licensed, specially trained driver in the front seat. Fortunately, the agency recently backed off those requirements. Nevertheless, 20 states have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles and 33 states have introduced yet more such legislation this year.

But that's not all the bill would do. Among other things, it directs the secretary of transportation to issue within 24 months a final rule requiring autonomous vehicle manufacturers to submit safety assessment certifications; creates a Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Council to undertake information-gathering activities, develop technical advice, and present best practices or recommendations to the Transportation Secretary; requires manufacturers to devise and submit cybersecurity plans; and prohibits manufacturers from selling highly automated vehicles until they have developed privacy plans with respect to the collection, use, sharing, and storage of information about vehicle owners and occupants. Perplexingly, the bill also protects state automobile dealer franchise laws that ban direct sales of cars. Since most autonomous vehicles will likely be operated as robotaxis, dealer franchises are likely to go the way of livery stables.

Curiously, the new bill requires that autonomous vehicles be as safe as conventional cars. Do folks in Congress really think that people would actually get in a robot car that they think is not at least as safe to ride in as a regular automobile? Just as conventional automakers affixed turn signals and windshield wipers to their vehicles, surely companies working on autonomous cars can be expected to add lidars, radar, cameras, GPS, and so forth without direction from regulators. Cybersecurity and privacy plans are great ideas—so great that autonomous car manufacturers are already addressing those issues.

This bill may be well-intentioned, but new federal regulations are more likely to hinder than to help the development of driverless vehicles. For more background, see my 2016 article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?"

(* A tortured acronym: the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act.)

Advertisement

NEXT: Short Circuit: A roundup of recent federal court decisions

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. ”Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act”

    Nay — if only because of the cutesy acronym.

    1. Why do you hate America?

      1. Hating acronmys doesn’t mean he hates America. It means he hates our brave military members.

        1. Good luck getting signed as QB in the NFL then.

          1. If you want to be signed as a NFL QB, you first need to be one.

  2. RE: Regular Cars Didn’t Need Federal Regulation; Neither Do Driverless Vehicles
    New federal legislation is more likely to hinder rather than help the development of autonomous vehicles.

    Oh please!
    There is no such thing as over-regulation.
    Just ask any government bureaucrat some time.

    1. Poetic justice if regulations strangle the development of self-driving cars. Progressives have been cheerleading self-driving cars as part of their war on individual freedom. Personal freedom of mobility goes against progressives’ sense of the proper social order ? the masses must be kept on a short leash!

      Inevitably, and ostensibly for “safety”, “traffic management”, or even “for the children!”, self driving cars will be linked to a central authority that can limit where, when and how often you use your vehicle.

      1. And long before that, your every trip will be a matter of gov’t data collection.

    2. “After all, between 1900 and 1965 automakers managed to put tens of millions of non-self-driving vehicles on the road – some 90 million by the mid-1960s – with essentially no interference from the federal government.”

      Yeah, but how many of those vehicles had airbags, collision warning systems, automatic breaking, backup cameras, hybrid engines, electric power, hydrogen fuel cells, crumple zones, etc????? If the federal regulators had been involved, we would have had all of those things back in 1900!

  3. Skynet Evolving, Like, For Definite, Right? Imma Very Escared! Act

    1. The state of spellcheck tells me skynet is still a bit off.

      1. because skynet WANTS your stuff spelled correctly? cmon.

  4. Since most autonomous vehicles will likely be operated as robotaxis, dealer franchises are likely to go the way of livery stables.

    Horseshit. If I’m buying a self-driving car, it’s so I don’t have to ride around in other peoples’ squalor. Even then, the livery stable didn’t go away, it became the gas station, the car wash, the parking garage, the automotive garage, *and* the rental car company. The ICE made it fundamentally different in that transportation no longer required green pastures to function. ‘Smart’ car technology does no such thing and, matter of fact, if electric cars, solar power, and ‘the sharing economy’ continue their fashionable ascension, livery stables/franchise dealers may just have transformed into pastures of solar panels and a stable to wash down and charge self-driving cars.

    1. Yeah, it would be really weird to be masturbating on the way to work and knowing that someone else masturbated in their too.

      1. In their what?

        1. “In their too”

          Too is short for too, which is what us hip kids call cars.

          1. I thought a line had been crossed when people started abbreviating 4-5 letter words, but abbreviating words so short the abbreviation is the same set of characters is beyond the pale.

            1. Get with it, dusty old man. Full of green dust.

            2. It’s only a matter of time before we resort to negative abbreviations: abbreviations so short, they actually make the word longer.

              And by golly, we’re going to do it without regulation, too!

  5. Huh, I’m starting to wonder about that Nader guy.

    Though, I also find it interesting how often I see reason praise federal regulation Ellen they preempt conflicting state regulations. I understand the reasoning, but it is very anti Federalist.

  6. “A senator once asked the head of Google’s self-driving vehicle program what sort of legislation was needed to help his industry. “What we have found in most places is that the best action is to take no action,” he replied, adding that “in general the technology can be safely tested today on roads in many states.”

    Last week a congressional committee ignored that advice and took action.”

    HAHAHAH, the Senate is not in the business of doing nothing.

    1. “Do nothing? Doesn’t sound manly to me, Bob!”

    2. And they’re amazingly bipartisan about not doing nothing.

      1. Blessed we’d be to have an actual do nothing Congress.

  7. I expect John to show up any minute.

    1. “These halfwits don’t get it that I want to drive my own car dammit.”

      1. In his defense, more than half the time, it was in response to magical thinking like ‘Smart cars will make automotive dealerships go away.’ or worse, the juxtaposition of things like ‘Smart cars mean you’ll be able to rent a car on demand *and* automotive dealerships and parking garages will go away *and* traffic congestion will be expected to drop significantly.’

        1. Because self-driving robo taxis will never need to park. Anywhere.

          1. Really, I mean, like, you know, they don’t use gas, so they never stop, like right?
            Wait. What? recharging? What’s that?

  8. Shit. It has a tortured acronym as its name, which means it’s guaranteed to pass.

  9. I can’t wait for human driven cars to be made illegal by fait and the millions of currently existing cars be made illegal overnight.

    Wait, you say they’re trying to make a computer predict the irrational actions of hundreds of humans at once? Oh. So, like, a pipe dream then?

    Nice. This is like the FedGov coming up with rules for those flying cars that still don’t really exist. I’m sure this is totally different from flying cars though. Sure thing. Absolutely. Also, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell. Any takers?

    /sarc

    Honestly though, it’s like if Google tries something people automatically assume they’ll succeed where all other attempts have failed. Kind of irrational, though. People give these companies way too much credit.

    1. Self-driving cars are already on the road, and safer than human driven cars.

      1. There are flying cars, too. Safer than ‘road cars’ as well.

        1. The self-flying cars are also going to be hindered by this anti-progress type of bill.

      2. I’ll wait until 1 driverless car (not the entire fleet) gets as many miles under it as my ass has, without an accident, before I’ll consider calling them safer than playing Russian Roulette with a fully-loaded revolver.

  10. A senator once asked the head of Google’s self-driving vehicle program what sort of legislation was needed to help his industry.

    According to the CEO of Volvo, L.A. could start ‘painting some fucking lines’ on the roads.

    1. I find it interesting that they’re out-of-control spendaholics, yet their roads are in terrible condition.

      1. The government’s business is bold new endeavors. Not maintaining old ones.

      2. People won’t ask ‘who will fix the roads’ if the roads are all fixed…

    2. If they want lines, maybe they can pay to paint lines themselves instead of sucking on the public teat.

      1. My guess is it would be illegal for a private entity to start doing maintainence on public roads.

        1. It wouldn’t be illegal for them to donate money for that to be done.

          1. I can guarantee you, if they donated money to road repairs, that money would not be spent on road repairs. It is not a money issue.

            1. I can guarantee you that it is exactly a money issue. What do you think the point of this new govt agency is? To figure out how much extra money needs to be spent nationwide to ‘upgrade’ our road infrastructure for driverless cars – and then to ensure that that is paid for via either human drivers of old cars (if via taxes) or future generations (if via debt). IOW – they are exerting effort to coerce someone else into paying for what they want with a lot of flimflam and bamboozle to make it stick.

      2. Cosmo Kramer, is that you?

      3. If they want lines, maybe they can pay to paint lines themselves instead of sucking on the public teat.

        Sure, they could start off by building a simple $550 staircase in place of a(n estimated) $65-100K one and go from there…

      4. Well, considering that I already paid for lines to be painted on the roads, and I didn’t get them, it feels like there’s a breech of social-contract going on here.

        1. you paid to have them painted once. They were painted. You haven’t paid to have them repainted continually as road maintenance happens (or doesn’t happen). so they haven’t been repainted.

          And what that CEO is pointing out is that those autoautos need much more ‘perfect’ and ‘consistent’ roads than humans do. Roads that are maintained and with rules precise enough to be embedded in programmers code without bugs. That’s expensive – but he and his luxury car consumers think everyone but them should pay for it.

          1. ou paid to have them painted once. They were painted. You haven’t paid to have them repainted continually as road maintenance happens (or doesn’t happen). so they haven’t been repainted.

            I have paid to have them repainted. Every time I fill up at the pump.

            And what that CEO is pointing out is that those autoautos need much more ‘perfect’ and ‘consistent’ roads than humans do.

            This is a different argument. This is about the efficacy of self-driving vehicles. I’m all for the technology, but I think it’ll be much more niche harder to achieve than its proponents claim.

            That’s expensive – but he and his luxury car consumers think everyone but them should pay for it.

            I think you’re being overly nit-picky here. Yes, their cars may be more dependent on lines than their human counterparts, but painting of the lines on the roads is an important part of basic road maintenance. Even for human operators, when the lines are poorly painted or non-existent, they can create real and dangerous problems. Bottom line, there’s a lot to complain about with corporations demanding infrastructure (baseball stadiums), but asking for a line to be painted on the road isn’t high on that list.

            1. painting of the lines on the roads is an important part of basic road maintenance. Even for human operators, when the lines are poorly painted or non-existent, they can create real and dangerous problems.

              When something re roads is dangerous and widespread for humans (eg potholes), then humans bitch and moan like hell to their local officials and it either gets fixed or, in many cities (idk about LA), those local officials lose the next election. But the reality is that humans are able to deal with missing lines and repair patches and other drivers who are wandering and bumps and garbage/dead animals on the shoulders and stuff.

              Cost curves are often – if you want something done 80% good enough, it costs X. You want to raise that standard higher – and costs rise exponentially from there. 80% at cost X is good enough for human drivers – otherwise they’d be complaining like hell. The reality here is that these autoauto maintenance standards are PRECISELY only to benefit luxury car drivers – and it’s the grunt driving an old car or the low-paid stiff with a long commute who’s supposed to pay for it. The same issue for the electric cars – they don’t PAY local gas tax at all but fully expect to freeload.

              1. But you’re making an argument about the regressive nature of a road tax. That’s a different discussion.

                When lines were first painted on the roads they were meant for gas-powered automobiles which, initially benefited the few people wealthy enough to own one. Enough time passes and pretty soon roads with lights, stop signs and clearly demarcated lines are considered a basic function provided to all people driving on the road.

                Also, you’re making a presumption about driverless cars– that they’ll just be a technology for the rich. I’m not sure where you’re pulling ‘luxury’ from all this.

                It’s conceivable that driverless cars won’t be owned, but used in a fleet which provides rides to anyone. In fact, not only is it conceivable, but most likely that they’ll exist in this fashion.

                And to go back to the original point, the CEO of Volvo wasn’t asking for special lines, or lines that only benefited his driverless car, but a set of lines that are supposed to be on the roads, and probably are in many places in Europe. But the irony is that roads are a bottom-tier priority in most large American cities, something that poor people are paying heavily for.

                1. When lines were first painted on the roads they were meant for gas-powered automobiles which, initially benefited the few people wealthy enough to own one.

                  Actually lines weren’t painted on roads until there were already a ton of cars (or horse-drawn carts in dense older cities). Basically the late 1940’s and early 1950’s (suburbanization and the early baby boom) was when that stuff became widespread.

                  you’re making a presumption about driverless cars– that they’ll just be a technology for the rich.

                  They will. Unless they are very very successful in getting everyone else to pay for their toys to become functional. Which is precisely why the industry wants to freeload to get itself jumpstarted.

                  1. BTW – here’s a photo of 5th Avenue in NY in 1913. – http://bit.ly/2vhVZhz

                    It has been paved with asphalt (so that was early freeloading pressure from rich car owners since horses don’t need asphalt). But no lines (and no streetcars either there – which effectively divided many streets in half)

                    1. And 5th Avenue in the 1930’s – http://bit.ly/2w0Ley2

                      Still no lines

                      5th Avenue in the 40’s or 50’s – http://bit.ly/2ufhWda

                      Bingo. Lines

                    2. As another aside – apparently the first rich auto-freeloaders made their impact on Fifth Avenue in 1909. Two 30-foot sidewalks and a 40-foot roadway (one lane traffic in each direction) became two 22 feet sidewalks and a 55 foot asphalt roadway (two lanes each way – and prob one intended for horses the other for cars). Along with trashing terraces, stoops, gardens, etc.

              2. Excellent points before one even gets into true feasibility. It’s a very real infrastructure problem, and notably even these so-called ‘autonomous’ vehicles do indeed have minders for these reasons. Sure, these vehicles are getting ‘better’ but the real question is can it get ‘trust it with your life’ good, and what you think the acceptable failure rate is on a technology is. There are so many moving parts and failure and interference prone electronic gadgets. How many are ‘enough’ for safety at a cost point people can pay without being, for example, in a situation where a Tesla is a good buy because you can drive it on the weekend.

                Also, and this is a personal opinion, computer’s will probably never be good enough to predict human unpredictability. If someone in the lane over pulls into your lane sharply because they spilled a latte in their lap, what will it do and what will other humans do in response to an inhuman behavior? We really can’t know, because we can’t predict ourselves.

                Of course, that will be the argument when ‘beaters’ and non-compliant vehicles will be deemed illegal. Then we’ll all just ‘share’ government cars and have to wait our turn at a limited number of $100,000+ ‘government approved safe’ auto-cars. For the children.

  11. New federal legislation is more likely to hinder rather than help the development of autonomous vehicles.

    That’s the fucking point! We can’t allow this to become the Wild West! Without government oversight, people can do whatever they want! They can program cars to kill people! They must ask permission and obey orders! From We The People! That is the only way to be safe!

  12. Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Council

    Cry ‘havac’ and let slip the dogs of war!

  13. Have we sorted out who pays in the event of an accident?

    1. The programmer who wrote the code, of course.

      1. Suddenly it becomes crystal clear as to why someone would create an AI that “wants” to destroy all of humanity.

        If the military didn’t unleash Skynet, the insurance industry would have. For liability purposes, Judgement Day is inevitable.

    2. It will be you, the passenger. See, the little thing they keep not mentioning is that you are expected (RE: Required by law) to pay attention the whole time and be ready to take the wheel at a moments notice. They don’t’ talk about this because it defeats literally the entire purpose of having an automated vehicle but it’s quietly assumed that this will be the case. Masturbating in the drivers seat and the car mistakes a dog for a child, swerving you into a tree? Your fault.

      What they really want is a cut-off switch for transport and the ability to monitor everyone’s movements in real time for law enforcement. Apparently when you observe that gun regulations are stupid, because a Buick is at least in the same ballpark of dangerous, the government and industry learn the wrong lesson.

      It’s not that they don’t listen to your arguments. It’s that we underestimate the length’s they will go to for complete control.

      1. But driving is a privilege, not a right. Only constitutional rights can be abridged.

    3. not. Farmers.

    4. Trust me, the insurance companies and their lawyers will sort that out.

  14. Red Barchetta.

    >>> In other words, federal automobile regulation was founded on activist misinformation.

    what federal regulation isn’t?

  15. These regulations are needed to insure that automated cars are as economical and effective as the federal health care programs.
    And to insure that they cannot hit the roads before the turn of the century.

    1. And to outlaw human driven cars eventually, and to outlaw car ownership.

  16. The article asks “Do folks in Congress really think that people would actually get in a robot car that they think is not at least as safe to ride in as a regular automobile? ”

    Of course not. But people cannot accurately determine the safety of vehicles–as indicated by recalls we periodically read about. A safety flaw typically appears in less than 1% of the vehicles. A safety flaw in a vehicle only become apparent from the collection of accident and other failure information. Thus standards and/or regulation are needed.

    1. “Thus standards and/or regulation are needed.”

      If you are to make an argument, you at least need to consider the other view:
      Do the regs cause more damage than the lack?
      See TSA for example.

  17. Absolutely! Why would we ever need regulation..After all the Congressman did ask Google? Right? What could go wrong? Let’s have a mishmash of different state laws and requirements.. Let’s not decide on a national basis who gets the bill if your driverless car kills someone on a crosswalk for example! Heck! let the ‘activist judges’ decide on a case by case basis! ..Because as we ALL know..when government gets involved, it only makes things worse! In fact, I suggest we do away with all regulations regarding aircraft, aircraft safety, air controllers.. (who needs them right? Telling aircraft that they have to wait so as to not hit another plane.. What a waste! ).. Railway regulations (I mean like why should there ever be any standard width between tracks?.. or heck! Who needs railway crossing barriers! ) shipping, telecoms, schools, etc… All that Federal messing around has ONLy made things worse! Am I right?

      1. This is a class joint, be specific. Babbling idiot.

    1. Yes.

  18. This essay is toxic libertarianism. Of course, driverless cars need to be regulated – we’re talking a robot to move around a 2-ton object at high speed!

    1. lol, the statism is strong in this comment.

  19. Poetic justice if regulations strangle the development of self-driving cars. Progressives have been cheerleading self-driving cars as part of their war on individual freedom. Personal freedom of mobility goes against progressives’ sense of the proper social order ? the masses must be kept on a short leash! Inevitably, and ostensibly for “safety”, “traffic management”, or even “for the children!”, self driving cars will be linked to a central authority that can limit where, when and how often you use your vehicle.

  20. Lne critical all but forgotten as it got quickly swept under the rotten carpet factoid about Mr. Nader and his “Unsafe at Any Speed book and video….. it was RIGGED from the get go. Just like the pickup truck side crash instant explosion meme….. Nader had carefully instructed the men driving the test cars on the courst to lean farther when driving the Corvair. This “noticeable difference”, then, was claimed to be a “sure indicator” that the Corvair was less capable in cornering. Seems the two test drivers let that little tit bit slip out in conversation more than once……

    For that alone I never trusted another word Nader ever said or wrote.

  21. New federal legislation is more likely to hinder rather than help the development of autonomous vehicles.

    Good! They can have my steering wheel when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

    1. – – – because you were run off the road by an automated car perfectly following federal regulations?

  22. What driverless cars *do* need, are roads far away from people. Far from homes. Far from businesses. Far from Pedestrians and bicyclists and parks where children play.

    Mars. Or the Moon.

    1. Better idea. Ship the people and children to Mars; and let the cars run wild here.
      Fix global warming in one generation. Fix the social security problem in one generation. Fix election fraud in one generation. Leave the internet free and equal for all in one generation. Etc

  23. I am creating $100 to $130 systematically by carrying down facebook. i used to be unemployed a pair of years earlier , but currently I actually have a very extraordinary occupation with that i build my very own specific pay .I am very appreciative to God and my director .If you wish to induce a good quantity of wage per month like ME , you’ll check my details by clicking the link below..HERE

    ???? http://www.netnews80.com

  24. Of course, regular cars were developed before politicians found out how easy it is to get donations from businesses that “need” government approval to make business decisions.

  25. very nice post. I like it. Thanks for sharing this information.
    Tinder is the best online chatting application. Try it.
    http://www.tinder-pc-download.com/ tinder for pc
    http://www.tinder-pc-download.com/ tinder download

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.