Driver­less cars ‘not ready for roads’

Lesotho Times - - Motoring -

WASH­ING­TON — Self-driv­ing cars are more likely to be a threat than a ben­e­fit to pub­lic safety be­cause of un­re­solved tech­ni­cal is­sues, en­gi­neers and safety ad­vo­cates told the US govern­ment on Fri­day, coun­ter­ing a push by in­no­va­tors for ex­pe­dited govern­ment ap­proval.

Even a trade as­so­ci­a­tion for car­mak­ers cau­tioned the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion at a pub­lic meet­ing that a slower ap­proach may be needed than the agency’s plan to pro­vide guid­ance in six months for de­ploy­ing the ve­hi­cles on road­ways.

There are risks to de­vi­at­ing from the govern­ment’s tra­di­tional process of is­su­ing reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards, Paul Scul­lion, safety man­ager at the As­so­ci­a­tion of Global Au­tomak­ers, said.

ssu­ing new reg­u­la­tions takes an av­er­age of eight years, NHTSA has said.

Work­ing out­side that process might al­low the govern­ment to re­spond more quickly to rapidly chang­ing tech­nol­ogy, but that ap­proach will “likely come at the ex­pense of more rig­or­ous de­vel­op­ment,” Scul­lion said.

Mark Rosekind, NHTSA’S ad­min­is­tra­tor, said the agency can’t wait be­cause self-driv­ing tech­nolo­gies are al­ready in cars on the road.

He pointed to au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing that can stop or re­duce speed to avoid or mit­i­gate a col­li­sion.

An­other safety op­tion on some ve­hi­cles au­to­mat­i­cally steers ve­hi­cles back into their lane if they start to drift into an­other lane with­out the driver turn­ing on a turn sig­nal.

‘A big life­saver’

Rosekind em­pha­sised that he sees self-driv­ing cars as po­ten­tially game-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy that can some­day save the lives of many of the more than 30 000 peo­ple killed each year on the na­tion’s roads.

A Ford of­fi­cial re­cently told a Se­nate com­mit­tee that the car­maker ex­pects to de­ploy self-driv­ing cars within a few years through a part­ner­ship with the car-shar­ing ser­vice Lyft.

Google, a pi­o­neer in the de­vel­op­ment of self-driv­ing cars, is push­ing Congress to give NHTSA new pow­ers so that the agency can give the tech gi­ant spe­cial, ex­pe­dited per­mis­sion to bring to mar­ket cars with no steer­ing wheel or ped­als.

But many of the peo­ple who ad- dressed the meet­ing pointed to a num­ber of sit­u­a­tions that self-driv­ing cars are still un­able to han­dle.

The tech­nol­ogy re­lies on clear lane mark­ings, and the poor con­di­tion of more than half the na­tion’s roads may be be­yond the abil­i­ties of self-driv­ing cars, not to men­tion drive­ways and park­ing lots.

Also, weather can in­ter­fere with the ve­hi­cle sen­sors. Self-driv­ing cars can’t take di­rec­tions from a po­lice­man. And the lack of con- sis­tency in traf­fic con­trol de­vices — hor­i­zon­tal ver­sus lat­eral traf­fic lights, for ex­am­ple - adds fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions.

Un­til the tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced be­yond the point where or­di­nary con­di­tions are prob­lem­atic, “it is dan­ger­ous, im­prac­ti­cal and a ma­jor threat to the pub­lic health, safety and wel­fare to de­ploy them,” said Mark Golden, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional So­ci­ety of Pro­fes­sional En­gi­neers.

Weather can in­ter­fere with the sen­sors of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles.

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