THE COSTS OF DRIVERLESS
Nader sees legal, ethical, political issues with self-driving cars
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.