back to article US Senate stamps the gas pedal on law to flood America's streets with self-driving cars

America-wide rules for self-driving cars inched a bit closer on Wednesday when a US Senate transportation committee agreed to bring the AV START Act before the full Senate for consideration. The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, due before the Senate, is …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    I think it is commendable, and surprisingly forward thinking for governments to introduce legislation regarding autonomous vehicles before they come into widespread use.

    However, I question quite why governments, not just in the US but in Europe too, are pushing the adoption of autonomous vehicles so enthusiastically.

    To the best of my knowledge, none of the presently available vehicles meet SAE level 4 or 5, which means they still rely on the human occupant to take control in certain circumstances, and are therefore not able to be classed as fully autonomous.

    Unless this is made unequivocally clear to the general public, and prospective owners of these vehicles, I foresee a marked increase in the sort of accidents typified by the recent Tesla fatality.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      @Alister - Truly autonomous vehicles are probably further off than most think. There are a couple of very good reasons to push them. One is the reduction in accidents as most accidents are really due to some form of operator error/stupidity. The other is it will likely give more mobility to those who are medically disqualified from driving.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Good idea to test in gated communities

        That startup mentioned that will work in The Villages in San Jose has the right idea. That's a restricted area, where the roads will be known and unchanging, speeds will be low, won't have to deal with construction, being in California won't have to deal with snow, because it is a retirement community pedestrians are much less likely to run out from behind a car chasing a frisbee. Most importantly, since it will be in a limited area they can educate everyone there about these vehicles so everyone will know to expect them.

        That's a good proving ground before moving out into the general public. Testing in a city like Phoenix is a terrible idea. Sure, some of the above applies but people can't really "expect" these cars when there will be a few dozen or at most few hundred autonomous cars out of the million plus that traverse Phoenix's roads every day. There will be construction, accidents, widely varying speeds (many of Phoenix's main city streets have a 45 mph speed limit, meaning people are regularly going 60+) and many other obstacles cars at The Villages won't have to face.

        Testing before they're really ready is bound to cause a bad accident at some point, and the publicity will cause people to demand putting heavy restrictions on autonomous cars that could set them back by years. Google is risking a big hit to its reputation if one of their cars runs over a kid, they can call that unit "Waymo" and say it is owned by Google's parent Alphabet all they want, all the press will talk about it being a "Google car" that killed a kid.

        Contrast that with the positive spin you can put on providing rides for retired people, some of whom can't safely drive themselves. After a year or two of operating safely there, then they'll be ready to move onto bigger challenges. Putting them in one of the larger cities in the US on day one is just dumb.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "One is the reduction in accidents as most accidents are really due to some form of operator error/stupidity."

        As human drivers generally drive very safely (I don't know about US figures but as far as I can make out the fatalities in the UK must be of the order of one per 100 million* miles). This is a pretty tough target to set for an autonomous vehicle. In fact, the figure suggests that accidents are corner cases, the driver failing to cope with an out of the ordinary situation. Experience suggests that dealing with corner cases is something S/W isn't particularly good at. In addition inexperienced drivers are more likely to have accidents than experienced drivers. One should reasonably expect experienced and sober drivers to be somewhat better than the average. If I were to trust my life to an autonomous vehicle I'd want it to be at least as good as an experienced and sober driver; I have no confidence that this will be achieved for a long time if ever. Meanwhile I'm quite happy for an experiment like this to take place somewhere where I have no intention of ever being so the US fits that quite nicely.

        *I base this on there being c 30 million vehicles in the UK and c 3,000 accidents and assuming 10,000 as the average mileage to get an order of magnitude figure.

      3. Orv Silver badge

        One problem that still has no solution is how to deal with construction zones. They're doing repaving projects where I live, and large sections of road have had all the pavement markings removed and replaced with cones or, in some cases, little squares of reflective tape. As a human who can can try to suss out the logic other humans might have been trying to apply, I still sometimes have to slow to a crawl. I don't see an AI having a chance of getting it right.

        Another issue -- rain and snow. It's not a coincidence that most autonomous car testing has been in dry states. Both rain and snow can make pavement markings disappear, either by covering them or by severely reducing contrast. But if autonomous cars can't deal with snow, half the country won't be able to use them for five months of the year. There are also many streets and rural roads that have no markings at all, sometimes because they're less than two lanes wide and require one car to pull off on the shoulder in order to pass.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      "I question quite why governments, not just in the US but in Europe too, are pushing the adoption of autonomous vehicles so enthusiastically."

      This is why:

      (From US national institute of health)

      "Road traffic injuries are one of the leading causes of death worldwide resulting in more than 1.27 million deaths; almost equal to the number of deaths caused by HIV/ AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In addition, road traffic crashes are estimated to cause 20 to 50 million non-fatal injuries every year.... It is estimated that road traffic injuries will move up in the ranking of leading causes of death from tenth in 2004 to fifth in 2030...Economic cost of road traffic injuries is roughly 1%–2% of gross national product in most of countries"

      The cynic in me tells me governments aren't too bothered about the deaths but the 2% of GDP

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "This is why:"

        Hmmm. And you think an autonomous car will do better? I think the real reason why is lobbying by companies that want to sell autonomous cars. There'll be an awful lot of profit sales to be made before there's a real handle on whether they really are safer and if the final decision is that they aren't then the companies still get to keep the money.

    3. Jtom Bronze badge

      There are too many drivers in non-autonomous vehicles, today, not paying attention to the road, lost in their electronics, eating, or make-up regimen. I am not looking forward to the day when they think they can completely ignore driving. They'll be taking naps, drinking, having sex, ...

      I suspect partially-autonomous cars will be declared illegal in some places one day.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge

      "I foresee a marked increase in the sort of accidents typified by the recent Tesla fatality."

      I suppose that accident WOULD have been avoided by a human driver? And how many accidents are avoided by ROBOT drivers by comparison?

      You have to tell both sides of THAT story. Or, it would be another case for: "Oh my FEELING GOD, there was ONE DAMN ACCIDENT with ROBOT CARS, harumph harumph, let's REGULATE the CRAP out of them now!"

      Gummint "gums things up". There is a point at which SOME intervention is good, like setting minimum standards, liability laws, and [in the case of interstate commerce] allowing auto-drive cars to cross state lines in the USA. Beyond the "light touch", you do NOT want big GUMMINT sticking its fingers into everything and mandating things that are ridiculous or politically motivated. I'd hate to see a requirement to have an electric car to get a self-driving car, for example, with all of the implications as to WHY some gummints might try to FORCE that up our as down our throats...

      1. Alister Silver badge

        @bombastic bob,

        I suppose that accident WOULD have been avoided by a human driver? And how many accidents are avoided by ROBOT drivers by comparison?

        I think you misunderstood my point. In the Tesla incident the human involved appears to have had incorrect expectations of the level of autonomy the vehicle actually had, and was therefore not paying attention to the road. He was therefore unable to avoid the accident.

        Had he been monitoring what the vehicle was doing, and moreover been looking out of the windows, then the chances are he could have avoided the accident.

        The original point I was making is that none of the vehicles currently available are actually autonomous, and require that the human occupant monitors and manages the journey, and has to be ready to take over if the AI surrenders.

        This doesn't match the hype, and if people buy the cars on the assumption that the vehicle will drive itself, then a lot more people are going to be killed because they are not expecting to have to dig the AI out of the shit.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

    Per capita, US drivers kill four times as many as UK, Swedish or Swiss drivers.

    With 35,000 people a year killed by road accidents in the US, the self driving cars are going to have to be well crap to beat the meatsacks in Deathrace 2020.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

      Source?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        http://asirt.org/initiatives/informing-road-users/road-safety-facts/road-crash-statistics says 37,000

        https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/15/business/highway-traffic-safety.html says 40,000

        ...of course, those are fake news liberal media trying to scare us into enacting nanny-state DWI restrictions, let's see what Fox has to say:

        http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/02/03/car-crashes-kill-40000-in-us-every-year.html

        (hint: number is in the title).

        The above reference different years, of course, but there are a massive number of people dying in car accidents relative to whatever OMG! fear of the week (terrorists, mass shooters, shark attacks, etc.).

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

        Dropped from about 45,000 to 35,000 over the last 10years. Mostly multi-stage airbags which can save you if you are too "free" to wear a seat belt

        1. jmch Silver badge

          Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

          "Dropped from about 45,000 to 35,000 over the last 10years. Mostly multi-stage airbags which can save you if you are too "free" to wear a seat belt"

          That implies reduced deaths from the same number of accidents. The idea of self-driving cars is reduce the number of accidents. Doesn't have to be big-bang to stage 5 full autonomy. lane-departure warning, haptic feedback if driver is drowsy, collision-detection with automatically applied brakes etc etc are all current technologies that will do a lot to reduce accidents

    2. Orv Silver badge

      Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

      If we're comparing driver skill, I'd think the interesting statistic would be the number killed per passenger-mile, not the number killed per capita. Part of the problem with transportation in the US is the country is big and people travel long distances by car.

      1. Mikey 1

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        It would be quite interesting - yes. And considering those long distances are all highway, autonomous niceness. Lethalness shinkage ripeness.

        Per capita is still quite important as a pointless funerals per family measure.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

          It would certainly be interesting to see how *any* of the current crop of (semi) autonomous cars could handle the roads in, say, Sicily: a combination of locals either overtaking on blind corners or moving at 20mph, and roads in the mountains which are narrow, twisty, and suffer from frequent surface slippage makes for fun driving even for we mere meatsacks.

          Until an automatic can make it on its own and in one piece along, say, the old Targa Floria and back, in daylight and in the dark, I'm not getting in one.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        @ Orv " I'd think the interesting statistic would be the number killed per passenger-mile,"

        Well do the analysis, the data's public! A twenty second check still shows that the UK has half the number of deaths per vehicle km compared to the US. Adjusted for passenger km, I'd wage the difference would be greater still, because the limited US data I can find tends to support my expectation that the US has notably lower average vehicle occupancy, and lower use of non-car road traffic compared to the UK.

        If there's one thing I'd pick out about the US, it wouldn't be the distances, speeds, or vehicle design, it would be the failure to adopt the roundabout as a normal means of traffic interchange. That means far more high-risk conflicting movements at major junctions than are necessary. An absence of lane discipline doesn't help either, but maintaining speed stratification across more than three or four lanes will be a problem given the lower maximum speeds generally permitted on many US highways.

        1. Orv Silver badge

          Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

          If there's one thing I'd pick out about the US, it wouldn't be the distances, speeds, or vehicle design, it would be the failure to adopt the roundabout as a normal means of traffic interchange. That means far more high-risk conflicting movements at major junctions than are necessary.

          Ugh, roundabouts. I hate those. Trying to guess which cars are going to veer off and which are going to continue 'round. It's especially bad when you're a pedestrian; instead of having a signal to at least give some order to things, you're left playing Frogger in a world where no one stops and no one signals.

          You do see them in the US, but only in suburban areas. Cities just don't have the space. You'd have to demolish three or four buildings at each intersection to put roundabouts in a typical American urban center.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

            Ugh, roundabouts. I hate those. Trying to guess which cars are going to veer off and which are going to continue 'round.

            You know those funny flashing orange lights at each corner of the car? This is where they get used. The key thing about a roundabout is that you're simplifying the rules to give way to the left (for a country that drives on the RHS), and then the majority of conflicts will be lower speed, merging movements, that are far less dangerous than trying to do a 90 degree turn across traffic, or cross a road at a right angle.

            It's especially bad when you're a pedestrian; instead of having a signal to at least give some order to things, you're left playing Frogger in a world where no one stops and no one signals.

            Well, we do a lot more walking in the UK than the US, pedestrian casualties are not common at roundabouts, and the majority of roundabouts don't have much pedestrian interaction. If they do you put in a pedestrian crossing. Regarding signalling, that brings us back to the issue of driver competence.

            You do see them in the US, but only in suburban areas. Cities just don't have the space. You'd have to demolish three or four buildings at each intersection to put roundabouts in a typical American urban center.

            In the absolute urban centres that's true (and largely true in the centre of European cities), but those aren't the roads where you get the fast collisions that must contribute to your far higher road casualties. But (for roads with lower traffic flows) there's even a solution to the lack of space, the mini-roundabout, which is just a paint circle on the road and roundabout signage that indicates the priority of traffic - again not for the busiest urban centres, but they're usually gridlocked anyway.

            But, lets go with the flow of your argument that roundabouts are not an answer for the US. What is? I guestimate the US road casualty rate per passenger km as being around three times that of the UK, when your patterns of vehicle use should make your roads notably safer than the crowded roads of the UK. What that means in practice is that every single year, an additional 20,000 US citizens die in road accidents that could be avoided (and that would still mean over 10,000 deaths each year).

            1. Orv Silver badge

              Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

              You know those funny flashing orange lights at each corner of the car? This is where they get used.

              People mostly don't use signals in roundabouts here, or use them incorrectly. The distance between entering and taking an exit is at most four or five seconds, which really isn't sufficient time for proper signaling. Many people also instinctively put on their right signal while waiting for a gap to to turn right into the roundabout, which means you can't tell if they're about to exit or just haven't canceled it yet. Many roundabouts also have decorative plantings in the center island that keep you from seeing directly across, so you can't tell who's coming until they come around to your quadrant.

              Further complicating the issue are "traffic circles," which look very similar to roundabouts except you can make a left turn without going around 270 degrees. (They're generally too small for large vehicles to go around the center island.) These are installed in residential areas to slow traffic down by forcing a chicane at each intersection.

      3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        US is the country is big and people travel long distances by car.

        Which should make their fatalities lower.

        Driving long distances on freeways is very safe compared to suburban/city commuting.

        A Houston/LA commute of an hour on a 12 lane freeway should be much safer / mile than the school run in London or Paris

      4. Citizens untied

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        Per passenger mile would also account for the fact that US, my guess, has more single occupant vehicle miles than elsewhere. This, too increases the numbers. I think there is larger issue of propriety to question anyway. Who says anyone has the right to automate consumption in this fashion, hopefully, becoming self determining about tech usage will someday not be immediately as as Luddite, but pratical. Do we really need to automate the idea of commuting too far to some workplace to do a lot of mostly useless self serving nonsense, or do we begin to really consider what societal transformations are looming. This is not real progress, nor is it sustainable. For example: What will the selling points be for future generations of autonomous vehicles, will this lead to fleet preservation and conservation?

    3. DougS Silver badge
      FAIL

      The reasons for this should be obvious

      Consider the state and availability of public transportation in the US, versus in the UK, Sweden or Switzerland. Consider the typical commute distances in the US versus those other countries, and therefore how many miles per year drivers log in each.

      Measuring driving deaths per capita is dumb - you'll find the "safest" country in the world by that metric is probably North Korea!

    4. Wade Burchette

      Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

      A big problem for Americans drivers is they tend to view driving as a right, not a privilege. As such, it is easy to get licensed to drive and even easier to drive without a license. The last time I had to renew my license, I did it all online. I didn't take a sign or vision test. I just confirmed my mailing address, paid by credit card, and a week later I had my renewed license.

      The result of this is that there are many people who are driving who ought not to drive. I personally believe that every person should be required to take a sign test, a driving test, and a vision test before each license is renewed. The driving test would require you to drive at highway speeds because the safest speed to drive is slightly above the posted speed limit.

      A second problem is too many people today cannot go 1 second without talking to someone. So they start their large SUV that seats 8 but almost always has 1 person in it, turn on the engine, and then immediately pull out the cell phone and call someone. This is distracted driving. A hands-free is not as distracting, but still is to a point. And then other distractions like the confusing radio in the vehicle, the road under construction sign that has been up for a year even though the road work has been finished for 8 months, the guy who thinks blasting his music so that you can hear it 1000 feet away is a good idea, and so on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        @ Wade B

        To be fair, we've got many of those problems in the UK. It is now an offence to use a hand-held phone whilst driving, but you still see it. And we don't for the most part even have to renew a driving licence until we're 70, other than for change of address, or if it has been revoked by a court.

        It would be good to have a controlled test, and see if periodic (say 5 yearly) retests made a material difference to driving standards. My immediate feeling, having been out for assessment drives by former police instructors, is that these sometimes renew forgotten skills and behaviours, but they don't stop my worst behaviours - I simply don't display those to the assessor.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        "A hands-free is not as distracting, but still is to a point."

        Not half as distracting as something one sees from time to time: turning to face a passenger whilst talking to them.

      3. Orv Silver badge

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        The result of this is that there are many people who are driving who ought not to drive.

        This is very true. Part of the problem is in much of the US, if you can't drive, you've completely lost your autonomy and you're probably unemployable. This is one area where autonomous cars could do a lot of good.

    5. Drew Scriver
      Facepalm

      Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

      Being an immigrant from Europe, I had to take a driving 'test' in the US. My European license could not be converted.

      First I had to take the written test. Ten questions and I had to get six correct answers. Many of the questions were about non-traffic issues, like drunk driving, minimum age to drive, etc.

      It was all multiple choice and the incorrect answers were easily identifiable. An example:

      Q.: If the traffic light changes from green to yellow, should you:

      a) Speed up.

      b) Stop if you can safely do so.

      c) Honk your horn.

      d) [can't remember that one]

      Add to this the problem with the driving brochure from the Department of Motor Vehicles. It's an extract of the traffic laws, but much of the space is taken up by information on safety issues. Come to think of it, much like product user manuals here.

      There is little information about actual traffic laws, and some information is simply wrong.

      Lastly, there's the infamous driving test. Whereas in Europe (at least the northwestern countries) the test seems to be designed to fail unwary candidates, the test in most states is designed to "not deny people their right to drive". My test lasted 1:27. One minute and 27 seconds, that is. Now, I'd had my license for many years by then so the officer didn't get too excited. Literally once around the block and I was done. In a sleepy village. However, the gal before me (who seemed to be around 16, 17) got her license in less than 7 minutes.

    6. Old one

      Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

      Couple of questions - where in that tiny land you call home is the speed limit 85 MPH for hundreds of miles? How many places can you go where the road is dead straight for 20+ miles? How many times is the "next town" over 50 miles away? Where can you drive below sea level and an hour later be over 10,000 feet? (Opps sorry you max at 4,400 feet) Gee guess I can't ask how many cities you have that are over a mile high. Guess that you don't have any mountain ranges that you can see and 2 hours later still have not reached yet. How many times do you drive in +46C temps or -45C?

      How much freight does it take to feed, clothe, provide construction materials, provide all other goods to a population that is 6 times and spread over an area that is 45 times the size. Per capita ONLY works on similar capita data. You are attempting to compare a grape to a pineapple.

      Finally have YOU ever driven 6,000+ miles in one week? I have.... Coast to coast and back.... You can basicly drive your entire country between breakfast & dinner .

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving

        Finally have YOU ever driven 6,000+ miles in one week? I have.... Coast to coast and back....

        I'm beginning to see why you kill 30,000 people on your roads every year. Ignoring a short stretch of tollway, all US states have 70 or 75 mph limits. Lets assume you were sticking to the law, allowing for refueling stops and other delays you'd have an average speed of at most 65 mph even if you avoid all urban centres and lower speed limits. That would mean driving at high speed seven days in a row for an average of over 13 hours per day, totalling 92 hours of high speed driving in one week.

        Have you never wondered why truckers are limited to 60 hours driving in a seven day stretch?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Light touch regulation is good,none is better. The markets can work things out themselves. Regulations are just nanny state in molly-coddling, and create barriers to entry.

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Light touch regulation is good,none is better.

      Right; because we all know that corporations will gladly put safety and quality ahead of profits. I mean, it's not like governments had to force car companies to install safety equipment such as seat belts and air bags.

      What? They did?

      Never mind.

      1. JEDIDIAH
        Mushroom

        It's those evil lawyers

        Nope. They won't. But the fear of multi-million or even billion dollar jury verdicts will help keep them in line. Even with government regulation, such threats are the only reason they even obey the law any ways. In areas where it's strictly a matter of regulation, some companies just choose to pay the daily fines for breaking the law.

        Government regulations by themselves won't be sufficient.

        1. Orv Silver badge

          Re: It's those evil lawyers

          With the rise of binding arbitration I'm not sure jury verdicts are the deterrent they used to be. We have two justice systems, the old one, and a new for-profit one run by corporations for their own benefits. It's the future libertarians always dreamed of.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: It's those evil lawyers

            We have two justice systems, the old one, and a new for-profit one run by corporations for their own benefits. It's the future libertarians always dreamed of.

            Libertarians? Really? I could see it being the corporate masters wet dream... but not libertarians.

            1. Swarthy Silver badge

              Re: It's those evil lawyers

              We have two justice systems, the old one, and a new for-profit one run by corporations for their own benefits. It's the future libertarians always dreamed of.
              Nightmares are dreams, too, ya' know.

            2. bombastic bob Silver badge
              Devil

              Re: It's those evil lawyers

              yes, libertarians just want as few laws as possible, certainly NOT the "cluster-FEEL" that we often get, nor the "anarchy" that libertarians are claimed to want.

              I'm a libertarian, and I recognize the need for laws. You just don't want to go too far with them, that's all.

              Example: recent shooting in Nevada. The bodies hadn't even assumed ambient temperature before Demo-rat politicians were out SCREAMING about "gun control" [like THAT would have helped]. It's typical of the left (and sometimes the extreme right) to "leave NO tragedy UNEXPLOITED politically".

              So after ONE major accident involving a robot driver, "gummint MUST regulate". Well, be very careful applying the regulations, because gummint generally does NOT know excrement from shoe polish about ANY kind of tech [I'm sure most people agree with this] and the LAST thing we need is GUMMINT sticking their gummy little digits into the business of engineers and scientists, catering at random to whatever political WHIM is popular these days, and with the #1 motive of "getting elected" being behind EVERY law and regulation they excrete.

              That of course doesn't mean that gummint should NOT regulate. I think reasonable limits, such as certification tests, minimal safety standards, and the *kinds* of hoops that a new drug has to go through to be approved, would make sense. So maybe there's the equivalent of 'FDA' approving self-driving cars, to make sure that human lives are protected, both inside AND outside of the vehicle. THAT kind of thing.

              That, and the "I already mentioned them" liability laws, as an additional incentive to get it RIGHT. Similar laws already exist for U.S. cars (to prevent exploding gas tanks, for one). So yeah, just a bit more of "that", specifically related to robo-cars, and we're good to go.

              "light touch" when done properly will MAXIMIZE the industry's opportunity. People will be more confident in the new tech, and gummint wouldn't be in the way [or requiring corrupt kick-backs under the table].

              1. Orv Silver badge

                Re: It's those evil lawyers

                The bodies hadn't even assumed ambient temperature before Demo-rat politicians were out SCREAMING about "gun control" [like THAT would have helped].

                I think it probably would have helped, and I'll tell you why.

                Gun lovers are fond of pointing out that there are basically no fully-automatic guns in the US, because the sale and ownership of such has been heavily restricted for many years. That, and the fact that no mass shooting has involved a fully-automatic weapon (except for bump-stocks, which are legal) suggests that gun control actually DOES make a difference in what guns mass shooters can get their hands on. If regulation were as useless as they claim, then the market would be flooded with automatics and every shooter would have an AK-47.

            3. Orv Silver badge

              Re: It's those evil lawyers

              Libertarians? Really? I could see it being the corporate masters wet dream... but not libertarians.

              I've had more than one libertarian explain to me how under libertarianism, there would be a privately run court system, or rather multiple competing ones.

        2. DougS Silver badge

          There's no fear of huge jury verdicts

          Rich companies like Google and Uber may be behind self driving cars, but they are being run in separate companies. If they get a billion dollar verdict against them they simply declare bankruptcy. The parent company would have things organized such that they maintain ownership of the IP so they can simply create Waymo II and try again.

          Only a lunatic thinks we need no regulations because corporations can regulate themselves. Any idiot who thinks that needs to read up on what happened in the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s when corporations were effectively unregulated, all the abuses they committed, which were the reason we started regulating them. You can argue that regulations go too far in some cases, but not that they are unnecessary. To take such a position is simply willful ignorance of facts and history.

          And I say this as someone who considers himself a libertarian. Libertarians believe in individual freedom, and companies being free to experiment with self driving cars without any laws or regulations MOST DEFINITELY impedes on my individual freedom to not be killed by a poorly programmed not ready for the real world autonomous car that runs me down while I'm riding my bike on the side of the road!

        3. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: It's those evil lawyers

          "Government regulations by themselves won't be sufficient."

          re: "evil lawyers"

          That's the other side of what gummint can actually do RIGHT in a 'soft touch' kind of way, to make sure the liability laws are adequate. And then the blood-sucking lawyers will take care of the rest. Sadly, that's how it has to work.

        4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: It's those evil lawyers

          "But the fear of multi-million or even billion dollar jury verdicts will help keep them in line. Even with government regulation, such threats are the only reason they even obey the law any ways."

          Proper says that the vehicle model has to meet safety standards to be offered for sale. Failure to take the money in the first place is an even more effective reason to obey they law than fearing it being taken away again.

    2. Orv Silver badge

      I think you're right. We should repeal all those pesky traffic laws, because surely drivers can work out amongst themselves who has right-of-way and which side of the street to drive on.

  4. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    "...a dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving"

    In contrast to the legislators, who are operated in a very hands-on manner by cash-wielding lobbyists.

    1. JEDIDIAH
      Linux

      Chasing the fiance.

      Part of this law is to knee cap local regulations. Keep in mind that these are the sorts of entities that show up in Hollywood as abusive cracker sheriffs like Beuford T Justice. Many of them are more than willing to be just be an expensive nuissance on the way from point A to point B.

      Who wants 50 different standards? Or 1800? Or more?

  5. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Maybe they're just...

    Portable cells for the proles?

  6. M7S

    Just a thought

    If a car driving in another lane parallel to me veers into my lane due to inattention or lack of perception, I can make various signals (horn, flash lights, other visual indications...) and there's a chance the current organic computer may recognise any error and factor this into future driving*

    If a driverless vehicle has some kind of similar issue, will it recognise the signal, consider the circumstances that might cause me to give such a signal and then consider its own behaviour and the possible need to modify this should the same circumstances arise?

    *Of course this does not apply if the organic computer's OS is affected by sociopathy, drugs, the fitting of certain badges on the front or rear of the vehicle (before or after purchase), the wearing of a hat and numerous other causes that I am sure other commentards will be pleased to list

    1. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Just a thought

      Well, think on the bright side. Your car has to meet safety standards, the autonomous one doesn't. So you'll probably just cut through it like it's made of tinfoil.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Just a thought

      "If a car driving in another lane parallel to me veers into my lane due to inattention or lack of perception, I can make various signals"

      middle finger? "Read my binary - 00100 00100" [in a convertible, this is most effective]

      Seriously, I would think the robo car wouldn't have this problem, because its on-board sensors would detect you. But that brings up a possibility of "how do we know they're working properly". A self-test would need to be part of the system in order to make sure they continue to work properly.

      At some point, maybe YOUR car will auto-detect the 'veering' and tell the other car about it, or take evasive action on its own [announcing to surrounding cars what it's about to do]. Just a thought.

      Still good to think of these problems. Hopefully the engineers working on robo-cars already have.

  7. Arachnoid

    If all thats required.............

    Is a reduction in accident figures then just make it a 30 mph [or less] speed limit on all roads,install speed limiters in all vehicles and instant jail for any traffic offender or anyone tampering with such equipment.There ya go saved billions of investment in new technology and being unable to afford a new "high tech self drive car" and removing any miscreants from the road.

    In doing so Ive increased the employment levels in Vehicle equipment and testing jobs, Prison officers, re-offence prevention officers.Thus enabling the Billions to be reinvested into the economy and jobs rather than unneeded equipment that constantly needs upgrading at great expense.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: If all thats required.............

      @ Arachnoid

      "Is a reduction in accident figures then just make it a 30 mph [or less] speed limit on all roads"

      Thats not a good plan. We could reduce things further to walking pace but then you are defeating the concept of road transport. To get stuff (items/meat bags) to places, and in a timely fashion. With emergency services probably needing an opt out of your rule as they have to get somewhere quick, but then the vehicles in front of them are all crawling along at a slow pace.

      It will also reduce the distance that is drivable. Dont drive tired will still apply even if the best you can do is travel 30 miles in an hour. It will also destroy a number of specialist businesses, I would think particularly in manufacturing, where technicians have to get to a site somewhere in the country within a reasonable time frame as money is being lost rapidly on a faulty machine.

      "removing any miscreants from the road."

      No you havnt. This does not take the pedestrian on headphones out of the road, nor the one who crosses in the middle of a busy street. Nor the idiot who wont walk to the crossing but runs across a 6 lane road with a partition in the middle (used to live near that dawin award road). Nor does it remove the cyclists with their habits.

      "In doing so Ive increased the employment levels in"

      You have also massively reduced employment as the range to travel to work massively falls and the cost of transport reaches excessive cost (everything becomes more expensive).

      "Thus enabling the Billions to be reinvested into the economy and jobs rather than unneeded equipment that constantly needs upgrading at great expense."

      Let me suggest an alternative scenario. Autonomous vehicles doing the long, dangerous and even currently uneconomical journeys. Even if the person on the street cannot afford one they benefit the massive reduction of transport costs for goods and services. Then consider landmasses like the US, Europe, Asia, etc and even the amazing ideas of linking places like China with the US by road and having a transport system for goods and even maybe a massive improvement to the concept of trains! Imagine a bus/coach service that could automatically get you to your destination.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: If all thats required.............

        "they benefit the massive reduction of transport costs for goods and services"

        Sorry, one of the biggest costs involved in trucking is FUEL, and then maintenance [brakes, tires, etc.]. Wages are a part, but it's much smaller than you might think.

        Independent truckers make a profit, sure, but it's a fair bet that half of their revenue is burned up by the engine in order to deliver the stuff. If a trucker earns the equivalent of $50/hour in profit (probably not likely, just using this number for example), his fuel burn rate could be nearly the same [particularly on long haul]. 5mpg might be consdered very very good mileage for an 18 wheeler. At $3/gallon and 60mph [both a bit unrealistic in places like California], that's at least $36 in fuel per hour for "straight and flat". Factor in some hills, stops [and waiting] at weigh stations, plus the truck's maintenance costs [which are the same for robo-drivers] and it's not so much of a savings any more...

        And since fuel is much more expensive on your end of the pond, my numbers for "middle america" are a 'best case' scenario. It's a fair bet that fuel costs in EU and UK are considerably higher than this.

        THEN, consider that the truck drivers are likely to load and unload their OWN trucks. Having extra people on the dock to handle the loading/unloading of robo-truck might not be so economical. There'd be several employees there, working in bursts, and coking/joking/smoking the rest of the time.

        Overall, I think robo-truck would be "a wash".

        One more thing - for REALLY long hauls, freight trains are typically used. They stack them with pre-loaded truck trailers. So the trucks bring the trailers to the rail yards, or within the state the rail yards serve. The trains then take things everywhere else. In some cases, the 'trailer' is a shipping container with wheels and a hitch bolted on. So they're already being really efficient, if you think about it.

        And the driver's wage isn't all that much, when you look at everything.

        [I think I'd rather have a skilled driver anyway especially for traveling in mountainous areas]

        1. Gravesender

          Re: If all thats required.............

          "they benefit the massive reduction of transport costs for goods and services"

          Most folks don't realize that truck drivers do a lot more than simply drive the vehicle. They usually have a lot of paperwork to manage, and local delivery drivers act as customer representatives for their employers.

          Please explain how an unmanned UPS truck would work.

          1. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: If all thats required.............

            @ Gravesender

            "Please explain how an unmanned UPS truck would work."

            Thats an interesting question. Do you mean the customer facing which requires a meat sack? Or do you mean getting the items across a country to potential pickup points/redistribution centres?

            A lot of paperwork is admin to add to a meat sacks misery and tracking. The joy of automation is the ease of tracking and ignorance of misery.

            @ bombastic bob

            Good points. It will be interesting to see how the future pans out with these devices.

  8. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Can I just say that I'm looking forward to the upcoming Senate Hearings on Intelligent Transport?

  9. Gravesender

    After seeing all the destruction in Puerto Rico and elsewhere I wonder how a predominately autonomous road transport system would work in this environment.

  10. Citizens untied

    In terms of conservation and other economies, autonomous vehicles reminds me of when someone bums a cigarette - the solicited complies with the request, the solicitor then asks for a light, to which the solicited replies "You want me to smoke it for you to?" as a way to bust their balls.

    I keep thinking we are looking for ways to accelerate the consumption of natural resources to the point we won't even need human beings to ruin the environment.

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