Nader sees le­gal, eth­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal is­sues with self-driv­ing cars

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY SARAH NEL­SON

Long­time safety ad­vo­cate Ralph Nader blasted auto com­pa­nies and Sil­i­con Val­ley on Wed­nes­day, ac­cus­ing them of lack­ing le­gal, eth­i­cal and pol­icy frame­works for the test­ing and future de­ploy­ment of driver­less ve­hi­cles.

“We have a sit­u­a­tion now where there are two ma­jor play­ers. We have the auto com­pa­nies, who have their own prob­lems — such as the Toy­ota sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion or the ig­ni­tion switch of GM. Be­fore they fly off into the 23rd cen­tury, they should look at how they’re do­ing now in terms of qual­ity con­trol,” Mr. Nader said at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity Law School.

“And then you have the Sil­i­con Val­ley techno twits, who have never sold a car. They don’t know the com­plex­i­ties — le­gal, tech­ni­cal, lo­gis­ti­cal mar­ket­ing — of sell­ing cars,” he added.

Mr. Nader, who ripped the auto in­dus­try over safety is­sues in the 1960s, voiced his crit­i­cisms Wed­nes­day dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion on the le­gal land­scape of driver­less cars.

On­line ser­vices giant Google has been de­vel­op­ing driver­less tech­nol­ogy for years, as au­tomak­ers GM, Ford and Tesla have been grad­u­ally shift­ing pro­duc­tion to­ward au­ton­o­mous mod­els. Sev­eral ju­ris­dic­tions, such as Ari­zona and Fair­fax County, Vir­ginia, have al­lowed com­pa­nies to ex­per­i­ment with driver­less cars on their roads. Many tech­nol­ogy ob­servers say they ex­pect to see driver­less cars in use within the next five years.

“We suck as driv­ers,” said Bernard Soriano, deputy di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles and spon­sor of the depart­ment’s au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles pro­gram.

Mr. Soriano said that driv­ers cause prob­lems and ac­ci­dents due to inat­ten­tion, dis­trac­tion or other hu­man frail­ties that au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles would avoid.

But Mr. Nader said the push for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles stems from a be­lief in auto com­pa­nies and Sil­i­con Val­ley that car sales are go­ing to de­cline. Their an­swer, he said, is add value to their prod­ucts by load­ing cars with elec­tron­ics and in­creas­ing their pur­chase price.

With the de­ploy­ment of driver­less ve­hi­cles, Mr. Nader said, the na­tion will have “a list of less,” in­clud­ing less reg­u­la­tion, pri­vacy, se­cu­rity, open­ness and en­gi­neer­ing sim­plic­ity.

“The in­dus­try has long been stop, jerk, and then they go through long pe­ri­ods of tech­no­log­i­cal stag­na­tion, such as in the ’40s and ’50s and early ’60s, when en­gi­neer­ing in­tegrity was sub­or­di­nated to stylis­tic pornog­ra­phy,” Mr. Nader said.

In 1965 Mr. Nader crit­i­cized car man­u­fac­tur­ers for re­sist­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of safety fea­tures such as seat belts and an­tilock brakes.

“You have to keep that his­tory in mind,” he said. “I know the Sil­i­con Val­ley types and their as­so­ciates in Michi­gan and else­where think this tech­nol­ogy is so com­pelling and it’s go­ing to save so many lives, pre­vent so many in­juries, al­low so many dis­abled peo­ple to get to where they want, that it’s go­ing to mow down all the mis­chievous op­po­si­tion and com­plex­i­ties that are out­side the tech­ni­cal world. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

How­ever, Mr. Nader ac­knowl­edged the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try’s em­pha­sis on safety re­gard­ing au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.

For pan­elist Ralph Men­zano, co­founder of the trans­porta­tion tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion com­pany ATI21, safety on the roads comes with the greater tech­nol­ogy. In­dus­tries, Mr. Men­zano said, must “stop wast­ing time” catch­ing up with tech­nol­ogy.

On a clos­ing note, Mr. Nader said the needs of the “mil­lions” of low-in­come work­ers must be ac­counted for.

“It’s time to bring it down to earth and ask the ques­tion, What are the trans­porta­tion needs of ev­ery­day peo­ple around the world to get to work, to get to their fam­i­lies, to get to their doc­tors, to get to their shop­ping cen­ters?” he said. “What are their needs and how can they be met in some­thing other than some fu­tur­is­tic, pie-in-the-sky sce­nario?”


Google has been work­ing in with Ford, GM and Tesla on driver­less cars for years, and some ju­ris­dic­tions al­ready al­low the test mod­els to be driven on their roads. Some ob­servers ex­pect driver­less cars in full use within the next five years, de­spite that some of the mod­els have got­ten into ac­ci­dents.


Con­sumer ad­vo­cate and for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ralph Nader says that au­to­mo­tive car man­u­fac­tur­ers and Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies have “no idea” of the com­plex­i­ties con­fronting them with driver­less ve­hi­cles.

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