Free Minds & Free Markets

Self-Driving Cars Will Make Most Auto Safety Regulations Unnecessary

Simplifying the rules could save lives on the highway.

Federal auto safety regulations fill nearly 900 pages with standards that determine everything from rear-view mirror and steering wheel placement to the shape of vehicles and the exact placement of seats. Many of the rules don't make sense in the coming era of self-driving cars. Autonomous vehicles don't need rear-view mirrors, or (eventually) steering wheels. Their ideal physical form is still a work in progress.

But an even bigger rethink is in order. As motor vehicles become essentially computers on wheels, software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety. This will make most government regulation unnecessary, and, to the extent that it slows innovation, could even cost lives on the highway.

"Basically, the entire vehicle code can be boiled down to be safe and don't unfairly get in the way of other people," says Brad Templeton, an entrepreneur and software architect, who has worked as a consultant with Google on its self-driving car project. (He also blogs regularly on the topic.)

One difference between self-driving cars and traditional automobiles is that companies will have every incentive to fix safety problems immediately. With today's cars, that hasn't always been the case. Templeton cites General Motors' 2014 recall of 800,000 cars with faulty ignition switches. The company knew about the safety flaw over a decade prior, but didn't act on the information because recalls are so costly. The companies actions had dire consequences: One-hundred-and-twenty-four deaths were linked to the ignition defect.

But the safety problems of the future will primarily be bugs in software not hardware, so they'll be fixed by sending ones and zeros over the internet without the need for customers to return hundreds of thousands of vehicles to the manufacturer. "Replacing software is free," Templeton says, "so there's no reason to hold back on fixing something."

Another difference is that when hardware was all that mattered for safety, regulators could inspect a car and determine if it met safety standards. With software, scrutiny of this sort may be impossible because the leading self-driving car companies (including Waymo and Tesla) are developing their systems through a process called machine learning that "doesn't mesh in with traditional methods of regulation," Templeton says.

Machine learning is developed organically, so humans have limited understanding of how the system actually works. And that makes governments nervous. Regulations passed by the European Union last year ban so-called unknowable artificial intelligence. Templeton fears that our desire to understand and control the underlying system could lead regulators to prohibit the use of machine learning technologies.

"If it turns out that [machine learning systems] do a better job [on safety] but we don't know why," says Templeton, "we'll be in a situation of deliberately deploying the thing that's worse because we feel a little more comfortable that we understand it."

John Simpson from the California-based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, who advocates stringent regulation of autonomous vehicles, says extreme caution is warranted because software in cars isn't like software in other contexts. "It's one thing to test Gmail in beta mode," he told Reason, "and software that when it glitches actually might kill you."

"That these need to be perfect before we can allow them on the road is a mindset that has affected a lot of urban planners and...the pro-regulation set," says Marc Scribner, a senior fellow at the free-market think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Since the alternative to allowing imperfect self-driving cars on the highways is the status quo—100 Americans die every day in automobile crashes—perfection shouldn't be the standard.

"Delaying self-driving car technology," Scribner says, "means we're going to see additional deaths that we simply could have avoided if we allowed these vehicles on the road that are not perfectly safe but safer than the cars we have today."

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 or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • CE||

    Wishful thinking.

    Self-driving cars will make driving much safer, once the industry overcomes all the unnecessary government regulations that are going to be enacted.

    Then down the road the government will mandate self-driving cars for everyone, for our own good.

  • Brandybuck||

    The first stage of self driving cars will be when they have to stop at every intersection, get out, and wave a large red flag, and then slowly proceed. And then in some states, like Oregon, drivers will be forbidden from plugging their own cars in, and will require full service stations so teenagers can be employed to plug in cars in.

  • Longtobefree||

    Don't forget the government mandated training and licensing for the teenager pluger-iners.

  • JFree||

    The Amish will have to be exterminated - for the greater good of the collective of course.

  • mpercy||

    My uncle has a country place
    That no one knows about
    He says it used to be a farm
    Before the Motor Law
    And on Sundays I elude the eyes
    And hop the turbine freight
    To far outside the wire
    Where my white-haired uncle waits

    Jump to the ground
    As the Turbo slows to cross the borderline
    Run like the wind
    As excitement shivers up and down my spine
    Down in his barn
    My uncle preserved for me an old machine
    For fifty-odd years
    To keep it as new has been his dearest dream

    I strip away the old debris
    That hides a shining car
    A brilliant red Barchetta
    From a better, vanished time
    We fire up the willing engine
    Responding with a roar
    Tires spitting gravel
    I commit my weekly crime

  • AlmightyJB||

    Dispute all of the articles, self-driving cars are a long ways off. There may be some interim hybrid functionality coming that expands the functionality of cruise control which we're already seeing with things like auto breaking. Too many things can go wrong to allow cars to drive autonomously anyone soon.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Not to be snippy, but I think you mean automatic braking.

    GM perfected auto "breaking" decades ago.

  • GeneralWeygand||

    Very good....very good....

  • 2whlrider||

    i chuckled

  • CE||

    Self-driving cars are on the roads now, today. Their safety record is just as good as human drivers, with fewer fatalities per mile. We're talking about years, not decades.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    We are talking years....right up to the day that, during the morning commute, 10,000 of the same model suddenly turn up a flaw in their millions of lines of spaghetti-logic programming, and violently turn for no apparent reason.

    Or some imbecile sends out a 'mandatory update' and tens of thousands of cars stop to download it, wherever they happen to be.

    Or some undjerspanked Bright Boy thinks it would be cool to hack them, and doesn't think the consequences through enough.

    I've lived with computers since my Lady (she's the techie) bought her first Apple II. I'm here to tell you that to err is human, but to replicate the error a million times in a nanosecond requires a computer.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    Weird. My 13-year-old car has four-wheel anti-lock brakes, emergency stability control, and adaptive cruise control controlled by onboard computers, and taken together those features can all override my steering, accelerating, and braking inputs. Yet none of those bad things you listed have ever happened.

  • Mitsima||

    "This will make most government regulation unnecessary, and, to the extent that it slows innovation, could even cost lives on the highway."

    If you think Joe Sixpack will be too dense to understand this you get a gold star (don't forget to include that on your income tax statement).

  • CE||

    Or as smart as every Joe Sixpack I've ever met.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    There's a weird old porn-site called Joe Sixpack that's all sissy stuff.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I can say with absolute certainty that self-driving cars will never come to fruition. Road surfaces are not uniform, GPS navigation is unreliable and the road conditions due to changing weather will stymie any automation. TO NAME JUST A FEW INSURMOUNTABLES. Give up on this folly and move on to jet packs.

  • Hugh Akston||

    They already have a vehicle that can navigate autonomously through rugged terrain and weathery conditions.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It arrived at its destination by adjusting its direction and handling to variations in topography and track conditions. What else would you say is missing?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Well self-driving cars may be a ways off, but mobile goalposts have clearly already found their market.

  • BYODB||

    How about this: how much would a passenger car cost if it had all of the actual computing power and sensory units attached to it on the unit itself instead of being a part of the network that's paid for by the Government and/or Private Enterprise (likely at a heavy subsidy)?

    I'm guessing you can turn a shitty $12,000 KIA into a $50,000 vehicle with just the equipment alone. Yeah, I see that working out really well.

  • DaveSs||

    Dealing with traffic
    Dealing with objects/obstacles that while the vehicle can run over and continue on its merry way, it shouldn't run over because the objects/obstacles is a child or some other breakable.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Oh, please. You can see the guy controlling it hidden in the back of a hollowed out driver's seat.

  • Mickey Rat||

    How long have commercial passenger planes been cspable of full auto pilot? Yet the regulatuons stil require a piloting crew.

    And can we get fully caoable self driving car on the market before we move on to a time when no cars will be human driven?

  • Headache||

    Auto pilot does not take off or land.

  • Barnstormer||

    Autoland is routine; has been for many years.

  • Bubba Jones||

    literally or figuratively?

  • Brandybuck||

    It will arrive. The big hurdles will be places outside of highly mapped Mountain View and Cupertino.

    Seriously, going from parked in a garage in one state to parked in a garage in another state, both destinations up in the mountains on dirt driveways, is a pretty big hurdle. But it will eventually happen.

  • CE||

    Everywhere is easier to drive than Cupertino.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    The Jetsons promised me a flying car. Instead I got the internet and Netflix.

  • Longtobefree||

    And the ability to leave snarky comments for the world - - - -

  • CE||

    One-passenger human drone quad copters are where it's at. Some Chinese company showed one at CES a few years ago. Punch in (or speak) the destination and it flies you there. Still not sky-legal anywhere though.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    "The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad"
    Chairman of the Bank of Michigan to Henry Ford's lawyer for not investing the Ford Motor Company in 1903

  • Ken Shultz||

    "But an even bigger rethink is in order. As motor vehicles become essentially computers on wheels, software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety."

    The problem with utilitarian thinking is that it's never capable of properly accounting for qualitative considerations.

    The paramount for safety has always been and always will be my personal qualitative preferences.

    I prefer to drive myself around on a motorcycle, for instance. It's more dangerous than driving around in a car, but I have other personal qualitative preferences that drive my thinking in addition to safety considerations--just like all rational people do.

    I suppose there are people who prefer safety over all other qualitative considerations. I think they're called "agoraphobes". It's a psychiatric condition. They sometimes can't leave their homes for years at a time, but they are safe!

    The rest of us make qualitative judgements of which safety considerations form one subset. I also have qualitative preferences for low costs, freedom, and fun, along with safety. Only I can choose the right mix of those considerations for myself, which is why I prefer markets--where I can make choices for myself.

    The thought of some programmer making those choices for me is revolting.

    The thought of a society where people who choose to live outside the programmed preference for safety are no longer free to do so is horrifying.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Q: What's even safer than making self-driving cars mandatory?

    A: Imprisonment in a rubber room.

  • BYODB||

    Amusingly, all those times Libertarians made the argument that cars kill way more people per year than guns made the statists learn the wrong lesson it seems.

  • GILMORE™||


    the 'grown up millenial' pictured in the self-driving car is reading a paper, hardback book, rather than a kindle type device, inadvertently proving that old-and-simple technologies tend to persist for common sense reasons.

    basically, no: self-driving cars are going nowhere soon. the road infrastructure isn't ready for it, and the cost of making it transition would be a massive pain on non-self-driving-car buyers, who would balk politically at paying for some hipster novelty.

  • James_R||

    And what will be the impact on our heroic traffic cops, lurking in the shadows, looking for victims?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What regulatory body has ever given up control of anything? Those regulations would stand regardless of the autonomy of our motor cars. Especially after the Trump administration has given deregulation a bad name.

  • Brandybuck||

    Just don't put the Facebook developers in charge of cars. Jesus H Christ that would be five state pileup!

  • CE||

    and hacker.

  • CE||

    The worst part will be waiting for the software update before you can leave your garage.

  • lap83||

    People will walk everywhere again, it will be beautiful! I mean, they'll be angrily walking but good for mother gaia!

  • MJBinAL||

    I realize this will disturb my fellow techies greatly. Self-driving cars seems to be the latest rage..

    I am a control systems engineer and have seen just how complicated control systems are, and how difficult it is to consider and deal with every condition ... IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT! I do NOT want a self-driving car.

    The general drift of this is going to be that ALL cars must be self-driving so they all can coordinate directly, in order to achieve a more controlled environment. Upon reflection, what do you think this does for privacy for example?

    no, NO, NO and HELL NO!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Also, they don't have to perfectly control for all possible conditions, they just need to do it better than humans. I don't know if we're there or not, but that's the more reasonable goal.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    MJBinAL, the question you have to ask yourself is this: Even with today's technology, and on balance, are cars operated by computer servos more or less safe than cars controlled by meat servos?

    I think you'll find AVs are/will be exponentially safer than human-piloted cars. That is, if tomorrow we switched to 100% autonomous vehicles, instead of 40,000 people killed per year in traffic accidents we'd lose 4000.

  • Mickey Rat||

    As far as not having steering wheels at all, does Epstein not envusion ever foing to place that does not have formal parking areas?

    My family has a cottage, the driveway is rather narrow so ectea cars end up on the lawn. Can you tell the conputer to park in this spot but do not go through the low muddy part and avoid where Dad has planted bew grass, without just grabbing the wheel yourself?

    I can see the appeal of an auto pilot, especially on longer trips, but I get the impression of the people envisioning this are urbanites who never go anywhere that does not have a parking lot.

  • Vernon Depner||

    I'm trying to picture a self-driving car on camping and fishing trips. Backing down the boat ramp should be exciting.

  • DaveSs||


    Last hundred feet sorts of anomalies will come up all the time and you need a way to take over and handle it.

    The other one I imagine is weather.
    I expect the cars will (at least in the first few years) absolutely refuse to drive on roads with more than a skim of snow cover.

    In the Chicago area, 90% of the time, roads were cleared to the pavement in a matter of hours after snow had stopped. Not that snow keeps people from driving during the snowfall of course.
    If there is an arctic blast at the same time the snow stops though, that snow will pretty much remain until it warms enough for the chemical treatments to work. I remember once it was a week before the street markings on some major arterial roads were visible because the temps were < 0 almost the entire time. Made for a fun week of driving.

    Where I live now, they tend to use sand not salt, and its actually not uncommon for some city streets to remain mostly snow covered until natural warmth clears them.

  • CE||

    Human driven cars already have a last 20 feet problem. It's called parallel parking.

  • DaveSs||

    Parallel parking is something a properly equipped car can handle on its own now. Technologically its very easy. Ultrasonic sensors to determine boundaries, and then simple math with the car knowing its own length and turning radius on how to autonomously turn the wheel.

    Personally I never understood what the big deal with parallel parking was. But then I've always been alright with spacial awareness.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I would love it. I learned to drive in a place with ample parking everywhere. I did not properly learn parallel parking at any point. I actually suck at parking in general. I always drive sedans in a land of with parking spots built for F-150s. So all I ever needed to do was point my car in the right direction and I'd be fine.

    What I am saying is, do not trust me.

  • Longtobefree||

    Buy a Ford pickup tomorrow. Hook up your boat, and go to the lake. Tell the truck to back down the ramp.
    Welcome to the revolution.

  • Bubba Jones||

    And heaven help you for those events where the parking lot is full, and it's ok to park on the grass, or even in the fire lane, because "everyone does it." But try the same thing next week and you are getting a ticket.

    So long as the cars have a steering wheel, they will be subject to the full wrath of current auto regulations.

  • Brandybuck||

    The boat situation will be a problem, but the parking lot will not. Because once we get self driving cars figured out, there won't be much need to actually own a car. Just tell Uber you want to get to the event, and it will send you a car to take you there. Really, think about it. Once we have self driving cars, there's really no need to have one parked 90% of the day.

    Worrying about where to park your self driving car is like some 1920s guy worrying about how to hitch his car to the hitching post.

    Your problem is thus reduced to how you get that boat parked in your backyard down to the lake. My guess is that you'll just keep it at the marina. Most boats are kept at the marina anyway.

  • BYODB||

    Cool, I'm looking forward to sitting in a car that was definitely just masturbated in by a stranger. What could possibly go wrong?

  • DaveSs||

    The problem with the notion that no one will own a car because why have it sit 90% of the time is a similar problem to why people don't actually want to take public transportation. Its inconvenient.

    For a two hour period each morning and evening, you'll be waiting because virtually everyone else is also trying to get to and from work at the same time.

  • Longtobefree||

    Say, if I drive to my weekly gaming group it takes 45 minutes (38 miles). There is public transportation available, a series of four bus routes over three counties. That only takes three hours.

  • DaveSs||

    Clearly that is convenient. Don't know why anyone even bothers with buying their own car these days.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Uber is going to have the vehicle I need at the time I need it, to go as far as I need it? Most guys I know keep tools in their vehicles for work or for personal uses.

    Again, this is world envisioned by urbanites who does not see a car as useful for anything other than local commuting around a city. Giving up personal autonomy to put yoursrlf at the mercy of an Uber (no matter how good their service is) is going to be a non-starter for large swathes of the population.

  • Headache||

    What happens when the vehicle pulls into the gas chamber?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    I'm guessing you're an urbanite. The reason Ford's top selling vehicle is the 150 is because people use those vehicles in the course of their business. Geographically, most of the U.S. economy is built on agriculture. Thousands of miles of corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat. Add to that oil, beef, pork, fruits, vegetables and a thousand other lesser products. Add to that the people who maintain all of the vehicles and equipment that make this shit work. This requires working vehicles and big trucks getting in and out of fields, driving on dirt roads and hauling the tools, equipment and freight required. Uber can get you to your office or the new Italian restaurant in Manhattan, but is of absolutely no use in the vast majority of the U.S. And while a self driving vehicle might maneuver a properly striped lane with functioning GPS, it will never get in and out of a cornfield in Iowa.

  • CE||

    Or beat a chess grandmaster, amirite?

  • CE||

    Uber-Boats will just self-pilot one to the dock for you. No need to tow it or store it 29 days a month.

  • Vernon Depner||

    First, it will check your criminal background, credit, immigration status, child support compliance, health history, and the no-fly list to make sure you're worthy of renting a boat.

  • vek||

    Seriously, NO. I don't care if it is cheaper to take Uber everywhere for me NOW, let alone in the future. I like having MY vehicles, that I can leave MY things in, and have available for MY purposes 24/7. So do millions of others. If we can afford it, we'll use it. There may be a subset of the population who give sup there vehicles, but for a huge chunk of the population that's a non starter for a ton of reasons.

  • JarodS||

    What about this would be so difficult? Just do what you would if anyone else was driving and you had to indicate where to go. Wave. Point. It's not like it can't see you.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Jim, you ignorant slut.

  • Sevo||

    "This will make most government regulation unnecessary,"

    And that matters how?
    Most gov't regulation is already unnecessary, but it took the election of a blowhard to slow it down.

  • lap83||


    I'm sure as soon as our betters get the memo about all of the unnecessary regulations, they'll start turning in their badges for the sake of efficiency. Lol

  • BYODB||

    So, just make all regular cars illegal overnight? Seems that libertarians suddenly stop being libertarians when the chance to masturbate on the way to work everyday is proffered. Centralized command and control of all roadways and vehicle travel seems like exactly the kind of thing I would want if I was a totalitarian ass hat.

    Can you imagine what Katrina would have looked like if the road control system crashed while an evacuation was going on? And make no mistake, any 'autonomous' vehicle system is going to be housed at a centralized location, it's not going to be an actual autonomous computer in your car. It would be absurd to design in such a way. Even your word documents are usually on a cloud, people.

    What say we stick with improving automated directions and HUD overlays before we hand our lives over to a computer that can't tell the difference between a toddler and a raccoon standing on it's hind legs?

  • BYODB||

    Oh, and keep in mind that speed limits will be able to be changed on the fly to control our national usage of gasoline or other electricity sources to power these road networks. Not enough power? Well hey, don't worry mandatory ride-sharing can be instituted to save on the national cost of those resources!

    The door that is being opened into massive control by the FedGov into your literal every day life is astounding with this particular technology. And I have zero faith that the time honored excuse of 'safety' will be the rubric that locks down travel to the whims of the government.

    Thank god that it's not a viable technology, or it might actually be a threat. They could put such a system in place tomorrow for a few trillion dollars I'd wager, but there is no chance whatsoever that your current vehicle would be legal if they did. That's a simple fact.

  • CE||

    A hurricane evacuation by car would be ten times faster if the cars were self driving.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Until the system failed. Then it would be a nightmare.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Seems that libertarians suddenly stop being libertarians when the chance to masturbate on the way to work everyday is proffered.

    I'd give up the life of my own god damned mother for the chance to masturbate on the way to work.

    That being said, I have masturbated while driving, but that wasn't commuting it was late-night roadtrip through the desert driving.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    To all us Luddites, I am afraid the self-driving "car" thing will happen, despite any practical considerations, and with lots of negative impacts for those who resist.

    Like all other recent techno-fads, it will be driven by younger generations who have no vested interests, and, given recent trends, want to surrender more of their autonomy to gizmos. And--this is the key point--they are willing to adapt their life styles to accommodate the technology.

    So for all you nay-sayers who claim that self-driving cars cannot reliably function in the current real world, perhaps that is true--but (some of) that world will soon change. If these vehicles need better road striping and other modifications, then that will happen, especially where-ever these early adopters want to go. For example, the first phase will co-opt key commuting routes and access through hipster neighborhoods. And with motivation from self-driving truck companies, the interstates will be next.

    And what I really fear is that some of these routes will prohibit old school cars and drivers, to eliminate one big challenge (how to program self-driving with all those crazy human pilots around).

  • Brandybuck||

    ""And with motivation from self-driving truck companies, the interstates will be next.""

    My guess is that self driving trucks on interstates will be first. And it will happen within five years.

  • BYODB||

    What are you smoking? It seems to be some pretty good shit. Self driving passenger cars haven't even happened yet, so to translate that into multi-ton vehicles seems absurd at face value. We shall see though.

    Fun fact: mathematically there is no way to prevent all fuck ups. Another fun fact: in major cities a truck driver already needs to break the law to get loads into plenty of places. How will the program determine when it's Ok to break the law and put other people in harms way to meet it's primary goal of delivering that multi-ton load of dildo's to it's destination?

  • DaveSs||

    Trucks on interstates is comparatively easy vs navigating city and residential traffic, especially on interstates west of the Mississippi.

    They are well mapped
    Traffic density is generally low
    Grades and turns are fairly gentle
    Roadway dimensions are very standard
    Access is controlled and there is no oncoming or cross traffic, just merging every couple miles

    They don't have to go into cities autonomously. That's for the last 10 mile drivers who pick up the load at a hub outside the city.

  • BYODB||

    So, a railroad then?

  • DaveSs||

    Long haul, and regional trucking is a pretty big business

    I'm sure the logistics nuts have figure out whether rail or truck meets their needs financially

  • CE||

    Plus they can drive at night when traffic light.

  • vek||

    I've actually thought long haul trucking will be one of the earliest wide scale commercial roll outs for a long time myself. All the reasons you state, plus the big monetary incentive of cutting the driver salary out.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    "Grades and turns are fairly gentle"

    Never driven I-70 from Denver to I-15, have you? Vail Pass. The approach to the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels.

  • DaveSs||

    I have, a couple times actually.

    Well, not all the way to I-15...only to a little west of Green River UT just before the San Rafael Swell, but otherwise yes.

    It's a splendid drive. Particularly around Glenwood. Considering the terrain, its rather amazing they got four lanes sufficient for up to 50 mph at all.

    It is also an exception to the interstate norm.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Supposed to smoke this shit?

    Anyway, self driving cars and trucks have already happened. Even if Google has spun their experience by a factor of 10, the mileage and hours they have accumulated is impressive.

    Funner fact: for a significant safety improvement, self-driving technology does not have to be perfect, just better than people. That might be a pretty low bar, and the technology might already be there.

    So, while I have many reservations, I guess I want to put most of those other people into robot cars, but not me. I just fear I will lose most of my driving freedom as a result.

  • See.More||

    . . . so to translate that into multi-ton vehicles seems absurd at face value.

    Tell that to Mercedes...

  • JeremyR||

    Self driving cars will give the government and tech companies control over where you go. It's the worst thing to happen to liberty.

    Cars give us freedom to go wherever we want, whenever we want. Self-driving cars take that freedom away.

  • DevilDog943||

    IMO, there are, right now, a large number of people who bitterly resent having to split their attention between playing with their smart(er than they are) phone and maintaining control of their vehicle. When autonomous cars become available, they will eagerly move into them. Obviously, this may mean giving up some more of their freedom, but they can devote their total attention to their 'gadget'.

  • DevilDog943||

    IMO, there are, right now, a large number of people who bitterly resent having to split their attention between playing with their smart(er than they are) phone and maintaining control of their vehicle. When autonomous cars become available, they will eagerly move into them. Obviously, this may mean giving up some more of their freedom, but they can devote their total attention to their 'gadget'.

  • Earth Skeptic||


  • geo||

    Self-driving cars will be so over-regulated that they might as well not exist. Once a terrorist can afford a self-driving car and begins delivering bombs by self-driving car, no one will allow them on the roads and private property owners as well as public facilities will ban them completely. The only potential for self-driving will be for heavy trucks, which will still require a driver simply to prevent hijacking by hacking. Beyond that, the biggest users of the technology will be the military forces which have already built self-driving tanks, and likely have every other sort of vehicle being set up to be self-driving, of course, to deliver bombs.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    "Once a terrorist can afford a self-driving car and begins delivering bombs by self-driving car..."

    I really don't see a difference between a terrorist delivering bombs in a car s/he drives vs. an antonymous car. In the former case s/he would get that great 72 virgins deal, right? Oops, I shouldn't assume that female terrorists get the same martyr deal as men. Maybe their reward is to go to heaven as a nine-year-old girl and get married to a 60-year-old uncle.

  • Old Monkey||

    Pie in the sky claims regarding safety of self autonomous vehicles are highly over rated, and dangerous. At best, short term auto pilot mode only will be available. In every field of endeavor regarding money, insurance, safety, science, and medicine, it took time to develop best practice. These practices aren't flying by the seat of your pants, determine safety, and reliability. This is why the air and water are cleaner in the US than Europe. It took Europe years to adopt the equivalent of California Air Board requirements for dynamic vehicle emissions testing implemented 10 years ago. California and Fed EPA are still light years ahead of Europe, with provisions identifying pollution source emissions, and remediation across political and geographic boundaries. Europe doesn't, with people and the environment continuing to suffer, because of small time international politics, no different in reality, than beefs between two states. For decades, Northeastern states in US suffered from "supposedly always Green Canada's ACID RAIN" Look Magazine documented it in 1963, internationally embarrassed Canada, and gave US Fed political coverage to make it stop. Even vehicles continually monitors by computers need perodic visual inspection, testing, and maintenance. So do all the life safety systems in a high rise, pollution levels on their emergency fire pumps, and generator.

  • vek||

    First, I DO think they'll get there eventually, buuut I've actually talked to engineers working for Google about this, and THEY don't buy into the media hype. They LOL when articles like this pop up because they know it will be way longer. I had a car full of autonomous car engineers once, and the LOW END said 10-12 years before full auto was likely, and the outside was 30 years. Most thought more like 15-20ish, so about 2030-35 maybe.

    We're going to end up with fancy cruise control, and that's about it, for a long time. Main reasons being:

    1. Human drivers and their crazy
    2. Unpredictable random shit (balls going across roads, dogs/kids running into road, etc)
    3. Having to break the law to ever actually be able to progress in city traffic, which they don't deal with well. I read an article where the Google car just last year got stuck at a 4 way intersection for 10 MINUTES deciding when it could go :/
    4. Real world weather. Ex. foot of snow with zero lines visible across a 6 lane road... Where is the middle? What lane am I in? Etc.
    5. Unmapped travel, such as dirt roads, driving across a field on private property, etc.

  • vek||

    I could go on and on. But all the above and more will prevent full replacement of people for a LONG time. We'll just have fancy cruise that can handle highway, and light city traffic, in some good weather situations for a long time. It'll get progressively better, but I wouldn't be surprised if the 2035 Honda Accord still has a steering wheel and all other manual stuff too for the weird situations. Doesn't mean it won't be nice to cruise control 90% of the way to work, but you'll still have to take over a fair amount of the time.

    Interesting thing about this is that it means many professional drivers might still get to keep their jobs because a 90% solution still means you need the butt in the seat to get it that last 10% of the way. Long haul trucking might be the exception since depots could be arranged to be easy to get into/out of from highways which are navigable, but like Uber/Lyft drivers might just end up with a real cushy gig where they only take over a small percentage of the time.

  • gordo53||

    The piece that seems to be missing from all of the "self driving cars are coming" articles is the need for a standardized, dedicated wireless network. What such a network would do is provide a treasure trove of data about the immediate area as well as issues along the chosen route. Wireless data would enable cars to "see" what's going on well beyond the line of sight. It will add a measure of safety that will make self driving vehicles compelling rather than the interesting novelty they are today. Building a network and the associated software is a job for a government appointed entity which is probably why it hasn't already been commissioned.

  • Longtobefree||

    developing their systems through a process called machine learning that "doesn't mesh in with traditional methods of regulation

    Useless when the feds will eventually "have to do something" and mandates COBOL programming by certified contractors with three levels of quality assurance by certified and licensed government employees, and a final review and sign off by a licensed inspector. We will have automotive technology innovation that will put the drug approval cycle to shame.

  • Longtobefree||

    How to spot fake news:
    An article about the brave new innovative future will have a staged photo of a guy reading a dead tree book and wearing a seat belt while sitting in a supposedly crash proof magically safe and efficient self driving car.

  • hammerhead||

    The rush to self-driving vehicles needs to retard its throttle and take a step back. The first thing proponents have to prove to the human driving world is that the technology employed in self-driving vehicles will somehow be safer and more reliable than the software in my phone, my current vehicle, my TV, etc. Because we all know that software is flawless, it never malfunctions, and who in their right mind would question flying down the highway at breakneck speeds controlled by an on board computer communicating with a satellite? Because absolutely nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...

  • CapitalistRoader||

    "Because we all know that software is flawless, it never malfunctions, and who in their right mind would question flying down the highway at breakneck speeds controlled by an on board computer communicating with a satellite?"

    It doesn't have to be flawless. It just has to be, say, ten times safer than the same vehicle piloted by the average meat servo. And I think we're pretty close to that now.

  • vek||

    But is it safer than ME? I'm statistically far safer than your average driver and have never been in an accident yet. Even if one just barely scrapes past human averages, that's counting all the morons. Many drivers are far better than average, and know it. I might trust auto cruise on the highway in good conditions, but it's going to take a lot to win me over for a lot of other situations.

  • See.More||

    "Replacing software is free," Templeton says, "so there's no reason to hold back on fixing something."

    Ugh... replacing software is not free.

    1.) There is the cost of diagnosing the glitch; determining the fix; updating, sometimes even rewriting, the code; several layers of review and testing; likely, more code changes, review, and testing; and documentation.

    2.) There is the cost of delivering the patched code to all of the affected machines whether by automatic update using WiFi or cell service, most likely, or requiring a visit to a dealership.

  • See.More||

    But an even bigger rethink is in order. As motor vehicles become essentially computers on wheels, software, not hardware, will soon be paramount for safety.

    Also false.

    The execution of the software is only as good as the machine it is manipulating. If your brake system is shot, it doesn't matter how good the software is. The hardware still won't stop.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    "Machine learning is developed organically, so humans have limited understanding of how the system actually works. And that makes governments nervous."

    Machine learning is a fairly simple concept to understand: you let data determine the rules. For example, EXISTING regulations in many states about how to establish a speed limit on a road *is* effectively machine learning. You do a speed study where you measure the 85th percentile speed on a given road, and set that number as the speed limit of the road. This procedure has been established and supported by empirical data and decades of analysis, by the way.

    The problem is that most cities and localities don't follow their own regulations. The legislature punts it to the executive branch (usually the local sheriffs office), where they pull a speed limit out of their ass, often motivated by quotas and revenue. Separation of powers indeed.

  • CapitalistRoader||

    I think there are additional, political aspects to the adoption of autonomous vehicles. One, boomers are getting pretty old and the oldest are starting to lose their licenses. Boomers will demand to be independent and AVs are the ticket. Boomers always get what they want.

    Second, as AVs slowly gain market share, it will be obvious that they're probably an order of magnitude safer than human-piloted cars. So, instead of 40,000 people killed per year in automobile accidents, the multitudes will declare that we could cut that number ten-fold if we converted to AVs. This is not a small thing. I imagine that when AVs become common and automobile accidents become less common, chapters of Mothers Against Self Driving© will spring up in cities throughout the land. Because, Even If It Saves The Life of Only One Child, Isn't It Worth It?

    MASD© be unstoppable and will lobby politicians to outlaw human drivers. Politicians will have to navigate their treacherous constituency and come to a compromise: Human drivers will be allowed to drive from 10am to 4pm on Sundays. Where you'll find them congregating at something called a Sonic, wearing their leather jackets, and complaining about how society is losing its fine motor skills by outlawing humans driving motor vehicles.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Will self-driving cars be able to detect the waving and pointing of old ladies trying to tell them to go ahead even though the old lady has the right-of-way?

  • Longtobefree||

    Yes they will.
    And they will tell the car holding the little old lady to get the hell moving or their memory will get wiped out.

  • gaoxiaen||

    -2 hours in Las Vegas

  • LolaWright||

    Since long, self-driving cars were only seems to be in the dreams, but now companies like Google, Ford etc. are investing billions on the technology, the dream comes true. Fully automated vehicles are finally in progress. This is a major part of the future automobile industry. At beginning, driverless car technology was just a science fiction, but, today, self-driving cars are stylish and really autonomous. All vehicles are included high quality auto parts, sensors, software, which helps them to know where to go, when to stop, and more.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online