Autonomous Testing in the USA
No matter who ultimately regulates autonomous technology, self-driving vehicles continue to gallop ahead
Whether you’re looking forward to or loathing the advent of autonomous vehicles, they’re here and are testing on public roads. But as pedals and steering wheels fall away, our state and federal governments struggle with how best to regulate the rapidly approaching future.
WHEN AUTOMOBILES FIRST appeared on public roads in the early 20th century, there were few regulations—and lots of crashes. The powers that be had to determine how to safely integrate motor vehicles with horses, trolleys, and pedestrians sharing crowded city streets.
In the book The Law of Automobiles, published in 1906, author and attorney Xenophon P. Huddy helped policymakers by defining new concepts such as speeding and proper signaling. A section titled “Law Keeps Up with Improvement and Progress” described cars as “a new contrivance for transportation purposes,” and it sounds prescient when viewed against today’s quandary of how to regulate self-driving car technology and assimilate robo-taxis into existing traffic.
Jump forward a century to when Google in 2010 revealed it had covered more than 100,000 miles testing its early autonomous vehicles (AVs) in California, and there were no regulations against self-driving cars on public roads. As with the advent of cars decades ago, self-driving vehicles are rolling onto roadways as developers test the technology in the real world. In the process, they’re forcing a rewrite of existing road rules meant to apply to humans behind the wheel, not machines and computer code.
SOMETHING MISSING GM says it will make a car without a steering wheel or pedals by 2019.
FOR A NEW FUTURE
The early days of the automobile saw horse and motor carriages cohabit despite sparse regulation. With the rise of self-driving tech, it seems a similar situation is upon us, and once more we’re tasked with revamping the rules, lest chaos take control.