Last Wednesday, in a vote of 54-0, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed with bi-partisan support, a measure that would give the Federal Government the final say over safety and production standards for U.S. self driving car (SDC) technology. This new regulation cedes power to the federal government to determine standards of both safety and operation for all automated car design, production, and vehicle performance. It is hoped that this action will streamline the development of self-driving car technology within the United States and allow for U.S. car manufacturers to maximize their output potential.
This measure was widely supported by automakers who feared varying state and local regulations would become cumbersome and hard to navigate. The legislation was also supported by the Self Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, an organization made up of Ford, Google’s Waymo, and Uber.
The Case for Automated Cars
In 2016, over 6 million automobile accidents were reported in the United States. Of these, over 40,000 were fatal. It is hoped that with the development of self driving car technology these numbers would be drastically reduced. It is been estimated that over 94% of these accidents were due to human error. Another estimate states that self driving car technology could reduce these numbers by 90%. It is also relevant to mention instances of DUI would reasonably be expected to drop precipitously.
Though safety may be the most obvious advantage, there are numerous others for the development of self driving car technology. According to a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, accidents annually cost over $871 billion to the U.S. alone. If SDC technology were to reduce accidents by 90%, that would mean over $784 billion in annual savings. This reduction would dramatically reduce insurance premiums as well. A recent Office of Highway Transportation report concluded that Americans drove 2.9 trillion vehicle miles in their cars last year. If even a fraction of this time is used on work, Americans would gain back substantial productivity.
Another big advantage to SDC technology is the significant reduction in the amount of traffic on U.S. roadways. It is estimated that 100% of self driving cars will be fitted with the ability to communicated with other self driving cars. This very feature could be the type of feature required by future government regulations. If all cars were communicating, they would be able to move much more fluidly on the roadway. This would allow for much faster travel speeds and would even allow more cars on the road since safe travel distances could be dramatically reduced.
These three major advantages to the development of SDC technology are accompanied by scores of other advantages as well, including mobility for younger, elderly, or blind or disabled passengers, as well a new unforeseen job opportunities for Americans. But this technology is not without its detractors.
The Case Against Automated Cars
Forfeiture of Control
One of the major hurdle facing the development of SDC technology is the American public not wanting to forfeit control of their driving. Setting out on the open road is now an American right of passage and many people view Ford and Chevy as being as American as baseball and apple pie. How then can anyone rightly expect citizens to cede control? The answer is they can’t. Not without a long drawn out fight. Or, perhaps more encouragingly with further education and experience.
Another major concern is the susceptibility of the SDC system to hackers who could override the system. If this occurs, they could wreak havoc in any number of ways from stealing user information, to intentionally crashing vehicles, or shutting down the system entirely. This is a real world concern and one in which the federal government would have the greatest capability to combat.
A final major drawback of the system is the inevitable impact and displacement of American jobs. Currently in the United States, close to 5 million people make their living from driving. This number not only includes Uber, Lyft, and Taxi drivers, but also Teamsters, delivery, and even ambulatory workers. If all vehicles have become automated a major industry which many rely on for their employment will essentially be eliminated.
While SDC technology certainly has its detractors, the advance of this new technology and its benefits to society seem inevitable. Though according to one Forbes article, as many as 10 million self driving cars will hit the road in the next three years, no one is certain exactly when they will full replace all drivers. However, one thing is for certain and that is that, last week’s legislation is only the first of much more to come.