Driver-less cars: not if but when.

In 2007 I first saw an article in Science Daily advocating the possibility of cars that drive themselves. Always cognizant of the inherent danger we face on a daily basis-through driving our vehicles-the prospect of safer smarter cars resonated within me. I carried this in the back of my memory, without circumstance, until the past couple years. Notably, with the relatively recent news headlines that Google has developed such a vehicle. According to what I’ve read, this cutting-edge vehicle (Too bad the name Google Drive is already taken) is no longer beyond the realm of possibilities, but that the question seems to be if rather than when. While we are closer than ever to creating the technology to make the “driver-less car” possible, the concept is still very foreign to many people. I still remember my 65 year-old neighbor gawking at the idea of a car that he couldn’t “hit the gas” in.

After thinking about this prospect for a few years, some ideas have come to my mind. First, relinquishing control of a particular mode of conveyance is not so alien. Every subway, bus, taxi, plane, or boat that I’ve ridden in has always been controlled by someone other than myself. Obviously, in a personal motor vehicle the “chauffeur” is not a human being but the computer or technology itself. Consequently, this raises even more complex issues regarding insurance, fault and liability.

A recent column in Bloomberg News juxtaposes the speed of growing technology with the lag of regulations. Technology is perceived to be growing at an exponential rate, while regulators and legislators are mere human beings. Laws are subject to the democratic process, requiring votes, committees, tabling, quorums, and convening on a quarterly basis. These technologically advanced vehicles are developing at a rate that is unmatched by which our government is capable of reacting. Bloomberg even suggests the federal government step in to regulate these innovations. This strikes directly into the heart of issues of federalism and state sovereignty. Traffic laws are traditionally considered “police power” which the United States Constitution vests in the authority of the states.┬áThe Bloomberg article hits on all these points and more, including the federal government’s role in overseeing vehicle safety, the states’ regulation of insurance and licensing of drivers, how to assign liability and responsibility to inanimate objects rather than a person driving.

The future of driver-less cars appears to be certain, even though the logistics haven’t been hammered out yet. Fortunately, regulators are embracing innovations which could revolutionize the safety of the automobile industry. I look forward to learning more on this polarizing and multifaceted subject as it develops.

 

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