By on April 22, 2018

autonomous hardware

Thanks to the incredibly lax and voluntary guidelines outlined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automakers have had free rein to develop and test autonomous technology as they see fit. Meanwhile, the majority of states have seemed eager to welcome companies to their neck of the woods with a minimum of hassle. But things are beginning to change after a handful of high-profile accidents are forcing public officials to question whether the current approach to self-driving cars is the correct one.

The House of Representatives has already passed the SELF DRIVE Act. But it’s bipartisan companion piece, the AV START Act, has been hung up in the Senate for months now. The intent of the legislation is to remove potential barriers for autonomous development and fast track the implementation of self-driving technology. But a handful of legislators and consumer advocacy groups have claimed AV START doesn’t place a strong enough emphasis on safety and cyber security. Interesting, considering SELF DRIVE appeared to be less hard on manufacturers and passed with overwhelming support.

Of course, it also passed before the one-two punch of vehicular fatalities in California and Arizona from earlier this year. Now some policymakers are admitting they probably don’t understand the technology as they should and are becoming dubious that automakers can deliver on the multitude of promises being made. But the fact remains that some manner of legal framework needs to be established for autonomous vehicles, because it’s currently a bit of a confused free-for-all. 

“It was not an issue that I knew a whole a lot about, and I was just bombarded by all sides,” Indiana Republican Senator Michael Crider, who oversaw the state’s attempt to introduce new autonomous regulation, told Automotive News. “I’m sick of the whole topic.”

That’s an issue with a lot of legislators. They aren’t technical experts and are primarily being educated by the very groups that are advancing this technology and likely have a strong bias to have things their way. Meanwhile, the automotive and tech industries don’t want the government to pass laws that effectively neuter developments they’ve poured billions of dollars into already.

“There’s not a lot of trust [among the companies],” explained Crider. “They all have spent a lot of money to develop their technology, and they don’t want it stolen.”

However, some public servants are feeling taken advantage of. Indiana Republican State Representative Ed Soliday, who authored the state’s failed self-driving car bill, said groups like the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers were basically trying to put one over on government officials.

“They basically treated us like we were stupid,” Soliday said. “It’s a very frustrating experience. They need to change their attitude.”

With opposition to AV START growing, at least in its present form, automotive groups may be forced to make concessions soon. Will Wallace, Consumers Union’s senior policy analyst on self-driving, said manufacturers need to be more open about the level of uncertainty surrounding autonomous development. The group recently took Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) for a joyride in a Cadillac CT6 with its Super Cruise and Tesla Model 3 with Autopilot to illustrate how present-day semi-autonomous driving systems function on public roads.

Blumenthal remarked the experience was “frightening.” He also issued a statement in response to the fatal incident involving an Uber vehicle and a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March. “This tragic incident makes clear that autonomous vehicle technology has a long way to go before it is truly safe for the passengers, pedestrians, and drivers who share America’s roads,” Blumenthal said. “Congress must take concrete steps to strengthen the AV START Act with the kind of safeguards that will prevent future fatalities. In our haste to enable innovation, we cannot forget basic safety.”

In the same month, a group of 27 individuals representing bicycle safety, pedestrians, environmentalists, law enforcement, and the disabled community submitted a letter to Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer — urging them to reconsider the deregulation on autonomous vehicle development that the AV START Act would ultimately authorize. Meanwhile, other consumer advocacy groups are pushing for assurances that driver data won’t be misused as vehicles become more connected.

“Do your homework,” said Soliday. “Everybody’s beginning to understand there’s a lot of hyperbole in the vision casting for autonomous vehicles.”

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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17 Comments on “Are Government Officials Souring On Automotive Autonomy?...”

  • avatar

    let them test all they want – but not using the general public as their test dummies

  • avatar

    So let me get this straight: if I change the headlights in my GTI, my car is now not street legal. If I change the ECU programming, my car is now not street legal.

    Because FMVSS.

    But I can put out any technology I want that allows the “driver” (we all know that means “passenger behind the wheel”) to take his hands off the wheel and let THE CAR decide what to do???

  • avatar

    The same people who don’t understand how Facebook makes money are in charge of deciding safety rules for autonomous cars…

  • avatar

    Someone counted up 44 groups hard at work to come out with their version of autonomous driving.

    After all the squawking, backbiting and attempts to bully their way to the front to quack ‘Choose me! I’m the best!”, only one thing is sure: someone is best and someone is worst. But with no objective standards to meet, how is anyone supposed to choose between them?

    The PR flak is intense, cities and states short of cash believe the sop fed them and allow these contraptions on the road, where lives may well be at risk. And contraptions they all are, first-take experimental prototypes designed by non-drivers all believing themselves to be geniuses.

    The sensors excluding lidar are presumably the same or similar ones currently doing a crap job on blind spot alert, emergency braking, lane keeping etc. which even mere rain can disable on some makes, let alone snow or road grime.

    I’m with those who think there needs to be standards to be met. How it impacts some corporate bottom line should bother no citizen; does society owe private companies a free pass on everything, or guaranteed profit? The way things are going these days, you’d think so. Risk taking was apparently for companies before the great bailouts of 2009.

    Some societal oversight on this “free reign” (sic) would restore some commonsense to these cowboys

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    These aberrations are solutions to a problem that no one has. The cotton-heads won’t buy them, even though they’re a huge demographic with plenty of free time and all the money ( Hi, Mom ). The kids will go Über or whatever because they’ll likely be high and also can’t afford insurance unless the parents pay for it ( in Canada, anyway. Hi, Izzy ). That leaves the driving public to be soothed into one of these pods with lightning-fast 5G for The Facebook.

    F that, thinks this Driving Public.

    As above, these ‘vehicles’ are being designed and built by people who want to get us out of our manually-operated cars. Ipso facto they disdain driving and want all of us to be driven. Little does the Forward To The Past corps know is that, yes, many alternatives to happily controlling your destiny in a motor vehicle already exist:

    – The aforementioned Über et al;
    – Taxicabs;
    – Public Transit;
    – Walking;
    – Cycling;
    – Hitchhiking;
    – Ordering out;
    – Amazon;
    – Horse;
    – Staying home for once.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m trying to understand how Uber or Lyft are viable alternatives to a personal vehicle for daily use. The cost gets expensive fast. How is a broke young person that can’t afford insurance able to afford Uber or Lyft on a regular basis?

      • 0 avatar

        TCO is closer than you would think, if you account for the full cost of car ownership.

        But it depends on where you live. Reducing the household fleet by one for Uber/Lyft would have been ridiculous where I grew up (rural Virginia), but it’s a win for a lot of people in my town (my town is 6 miles on a side and has good public transportation).

      • 0 avatar

        It depends on the distance you travel to work. In my area a minimum fare Uber ride costs the passenger around $7. So to get to work locally someone would be looking at about $14/day x 20 work days a month = $280-300. Even a car you own outright will cost at least that to run each month. The people who use Uber for daily transportation in my area are more likely to have bad credit, be lower income, and possible have a spotty driving record – all of which wildly inflate the cost of owning a car.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision


        Do you have any idea what it costs to insure a 16 year-old boy on a newish truck? I do. It’d be cheaper to cab him around town – at least he can’t crash the cab.

        • 0 avatar


          Back about 15 years ago, it cost almost $200/mo to put a 16 yr old behind the wheel of an older Ford 4X4 pickup. That’s just liability and Comp. I can’t imagine it got any cheaper since.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I do believe the government needs to step in working alongside ALL of the AV stakeholders to develop a set of guidelines and regulations.

    I personally believe that AV technology is no good unless the following is meet, these ought to be a minimum set of requirements;

    1. Develop a set of standards for road infrastructure. My logic is AV technology really needs a better standard for roads and markings.

    2. All technology is also intellectual property of the government. This will allow for independence for investigations down the track due to accidents. Accidents can also include hacking into AV software.

    3. All AV technology must be proven safe prior to release onto public roads.

    4. A single system must be developed selected at the end of the day for ALL vehicles. I do believe, like driving regulations, all must work under the same infrastructure and regulatory framework.

    • 0 avatar

      You nailed it. Which is why it will never be adopted. Try to get 50 states to agree on road markings, much less maintain them, is next to impossible.

      Army spent millions to make AV trucks route overland, still has human drivers. Semi’s companies have the tech but need a human for the last 20 miles and cost per truck is less than one H1B import getting .35 per mile.

      AV is a programmers wet dream thrust into reality of CA minting driver licenses for illegals, where a three lane hard right to an exit is the norm. When AV solves that “event” it might be the breakthrough that gets AV back in the game.

      Finally, if programmers do get it right, the level of insurance required to drive will go up and we’ll see the similar signs peppered along I-10. Hit by AV call law dog at xxx xxx xxxx

    • 0 avatar

      All “we” really need, is the ability to build “new” roads reserved for AIs, where robocars can be operated without the need to, from day 1, interact with the chaos that is human drivers. Over time, the bots will improve, people will want more of them, and more and more new infrastructure spending will go to the robot side of the roadnet.

      Point being, we gotta keep ’em separated, until the bots have proven themselves sufficiently that there is a near universal clamor for bringing them into more and more complex and risky driving situations.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        You’ve mostly described a train. As with a train, what happens when the pods run out of segregated roadway? At, like, some kind of terminus – or terminal, even? The ‘riders’ all call an Über?

        I build and maintain roads for a living. The cost of a new road – just per 100m – would blow your hair back. Land purchases; easements; drainage ( big one ); route planning; crushing plant and site and transport for for pit run/fresh 3″ Minus/420 rock/425 rock/pebble stone; clay site nearby, ideally; contractors for everything from heavy equipment to gravel trucks to flaggers…

        All this before a single mile of road has been laid. Do you think the pod users want to pay for that?

        Nor do I.

  • avatar

    I am in full agreement with senators following comment:

    “Congress must take concrete steps to strengthen the AV START Act with the kind of safeguards that will prevent future fatalities. In our haste to enable innovation, we cannot forget basic safety.”

    I think evidence is clearly showing that it is not nearly “ready for prime time”, and the results of rushing the mass introduction of the technology could be disastrous

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