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Transportation Technology

Autonomous Vehicles and the Law 417

Posted by samzenpus
from the johnny-cab dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Google's autonomous cars have demonstrated that self-driving vehicles are now largely workable and could greatly limit human error, but questions of legal liability, privacy and insurance regulation have yet to be addressed. Simple questions, like whether the police should have the right to pull over autonomous vehicles, have yet to be answered and legal scholars and government officials warn that society has only begun wrestling with laws required for autonomous vehicles. The big question remains legal liability for the designers and manufacturers as some point out that liability exemptions have been mandated for vaccines, which are believed to offer great value for the general health of the population, despite some risks. 'Why would you even put money into developing it?' says Gary E. Marchant, director of the Center for Law, Science and Innovation at the Arizona State University law school. 'I see this as a huge barrier to this technology unless there are some policy ways around it.' Congress could consider creating a comprehensive regulatory regime to govern the use of these technologies say researchers at the Rand Corporation adding that while federal preemption has important disadvantages, it might speed the development and utilization of these technologies (PDF) and should be considered, if accompanied by a comprehensive federal regulatory regime. 'This may minimize the number of inconsistent legal regimes that manufacturers face and simplify and speed the introduction of these technologies.'"
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Autonomous Vehicles and the Law

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  • I Guarantee (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ios and web coder (2552484) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:20PM (#38824031) Journal
    The first folks that will learn to take control of autonomous vehicles will be crooks. New breed of highwayman...
    • by mark-t (151149)
      "Autonomous" does is neither a superset nor subset of "remote control".
      • by n5vb (587569)

        "Autonomous" [..] is neither a superset nor subset of "remote control".

        True enough. But the car will need to be aware of local traffic laws including speed limits and yield to/stop for emergency vehicles and official traffic stops, which means there is communication of some sort going into the car to make it aware of those things. It will also at a minimum have some GPS-like feature to make it aware of where it is, both for navigation and to index that reference of local laws;

        Suppose someone figures out how to interfere with those things and inject their own malicious commun

        • by ghostdoc (1235612)

          You could easily do this with human drivers at the moment. Fake uniforms and a fake Homeland Security 'terrorism spot-check' will get everyone playing nice and quietly and too scared to do anything to resist.

  • So like, %99.9 of the time they won't plunge full speed into oncoming traffic when it rains.
    To err is human, to tear down a sidewalk at 55 miles per hour takes a computer.
    • by BasilBrush (643681) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:27PM (#38824063)

      To err is human, to tear down a sidewalk at 55 miles per hour takes a computer.

      Or alcohol.

      • by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:33PM (#38824111)
        Or texting, eating, adjusting the stereo, putting on make-up, or all the other stuff we do instead of watching the road. I ride a motorcycle, and people ask me if I think it's dangerous. I reply that at least I'm alert, watching the road, and have both hands on the handlebars with nary a phone or other distraction in sight. Autonomous vehicles don't have to be perfect to win me over, just better than the average driver, which is a terribly low bar to cross.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          When else am I supposed to apply makeup wise guy?

    • Nothing is funnier than a computer making a fantastically bad guess at an everyday human problem. Like this one time. [time.com]
  • Seriously, why wouldn't Police be allowed to pull over autonomous vehicles? Unless they are completely without flaw there's always going to be a few corner cases where there would be a legitimate need. Plus sometimes the police need to pull over a vehicle because a warrant has been issued for the owner of the car, but not directly related to the driving.

    • by roeguard (1113267)

      And what would be the point of pulling it over? Give it a stern reprimand before sending back on its way?

      Unless the cop plans to either (1) Inspect it for malfunction/damage, or (2) Impound it, I don't see any reason to physically stop the vehicle. A properly tagged vehicle should provide all you need to issue a citation; no curb required.

      • by Jeremi (14640) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:34PM (#38824121) Homepage

        Unless the cop plans to either (1) Inspect it for malfunction/damage, or (2) Impound it, I don't see any reason to physically stop the vehicle.

        You're not a Toyota customer, are you? ;^)

      • by Garridan (597129) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:48PM (#38824225)
        Suppose a vehicle hits a pedestrian or cyclist, and drags [seattlepi.com] the corpse. A witnessing cop can either (1) pull the vehicle over, or (2) follow the vehicle at a polite distance while all identifying features of the victim are shed to the ground. I think pulling the vehicle over is the appropriate course of action here. If nothing else, to prevent the trauma to hundreds of witnesses.

        If a vehicle is being operated recklessly, it should get pulled over. If there are outstanding tickets / warrants for its owner, it should be searched / impounded. I don't see why the presence of a driver should matter here.
      • by hajus (990255)

        There certainly may be a diminished need for traffic enforcement leading to fewer police cars on the road, but having cars completely ignore police and just driving on is going to cause problems in emergencies. The police do need to pull over supect passengers and vehicles for contraband such as drugs, child porn, illegal guns, etc. There are also observed crimes such as someone in the car waving a gun around in the car on the road. Then you do have the malfunction and damaged vehicles such as with the e

      • by icebike (68054) * on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:20PM (#38824419)

        And what would be the point of pulling it over?

        Child stuck in car.
        Passenger needs medical assistance.
        Bomb needs defusing.
        Bridge out ahead, sensors not adequate.

        Man, I wish I lived in the perfect world you do. It must be nice where nothing goes wrong, and nobody has any ill intent.

      • by element-o.p. (939033) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:37PM (#38824555) Homepage

        And what would be the point of pulling it over?

        You are assuming that all a cop wants to do is issue a citation. Here are some more plausible possibilities, just off the top of my head:

        1) There's an emergency up ahead, and police need to stop all the vehicles headed in that direction to prevent the emergency from escalating.
        2) The vehicle is driverless, but not necessarily riderless -- i.e., the police need to rescue a kidnapping victim, or apprehend a wanted felon/terrorist (hey, it's the current buzzword), or search for narcotics, or...
        3) You gave other reasons yourself (namely, inspecting it for malfunction/damage or impounding it). In those cases, a citation may not be necessary, but it might be necessary to remove it from the road because it presents a hazard to others.
        4) What if it's not properly tagged?

        Keep in mind, if the vehicle is autonomous, it probably won't be speeding, it probably won't run red lights or stop signs, it probably won't be driving recklessly (unless it has faulty sensors). Unlike with human-piloted automobiles, I think issuing citations for anything other than expired tags would be rather unlikely.

    • by morcego (260031) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:29PM (#38824085)

      Good news is, since the vehicle is computer based, to pull the vehicle over the police would most likely have to issue a computer command, which could be logged, including date, time and identity of the police officer who issue the other. If it is related to a warrant, it could even be linked to court data.

    • by BasilBrush (643681) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:31PM (#38824097)

      Sure. But it's still an interesting question. It's illegal for a driver to speed or jump a red light or whatever, but if an automated car with 4 people in it does one of those things, who, if anyone, has broken the law?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by John.P.Jones (601028)

        The designer of the car broke the law, the vehicle is defective breaking traffic laws and needs to be impounded and the builder fined for endangering the public.

        When a computer is a box sitting on someone's desk that computes figures and shows lights on a display there is no reason to restrict who can do what with machines and they should be open to hacking and modification. When they are connected to networks the burden goes up a bit and maybe code has to be signed or restricted to a safe API on top of a

        • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:51PM (#38824259) Journal

          The designer of the car broke the law, the vehicle is defective breaking traffic laws and needs to be impounded and the builder fined for endangering the public.

          How?

          Is there a database of traffic laws? Who provides the data? Is the data correct?

          Does the vehicle read road signs? Are the signs correct? Are they transiently obscured by a parked vehicle or a pedestrian?

          Computers, even with perfect design and implementation, are still able to do the wrong thing. Garbage in, garbage out. (I can't fucking believe I have to write this on /. of all places.)

          • by Oligonicella (659917) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:00PM (#38824311)
            "Is there a database of traffic laws? Who provides the data? Is the data correct?"

            Yes. Every state, online. For smaller locales, the autonomous folk wanting my money had better do a good job of acquiring it, just like the local humans must.

            "Does the vehicle read road signs?"

            An autonomous vehicle had *better* read road signs, and pretty damned well.

            "Are the signs correct? Are they transiently obscured by a parked vehicle or a pedestrian?"

            Same problems humans face, too bad.

            "Computers, even with perfect design and implementation, are still able to do the wrong thing. Garbage in, garbage out."

            Same for the humans, yet fines stand for them. I disagree with your premise. I believe that if a vehicle cannot do all the things a human is required to do, it cannot be an autonomous vehicle. It's just remote-controlled.
            • by AK Marc (707885)

              Same problems humans face, too bad.

              but you are wrong. A person can argue. A computer can't. Will you let the computer's logs be used in court? Here's a video of the missing sign, so the previous sign, showing 55 mph was still legally in effect. I've done the same to get out of a parking ticket when someone damaged the sign and it was missing. But the implication is that the car should have figured it out even if a human couldn't have?

              Same for the humans, yet fines stand for them.

              But they aren't. If there's a construction zone and someone puts the speed limit signs up wrong, you a

          • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:29PM (#38824489)

            The question goes to the heart of the argument. If the average driver has a 1.5% chance of causing a collision, but an automated on 1% then clearly the automated vehicle is preferable (to over simplify somewhat). However if the 'designers' at GM are responsible for 20 million cars then they have no incentive to ever try and work, because merely by law of averages they're going to get screwed selling millions of cars a year.

            A couple of months ago the brakes failed on my car and I narrowly avoided hitting two people. Now the thing is, my car had been at the shop to get the brakes checked and repaired about 3 weeks before that. Who is really at fault? In 3 weeks the auto shop can't really be liable for anything that happened to the brakes, but I had no indication there was a problem until I had a loud thunking sound, and no braking action (go go emergency brakes). Had I been a fraction of a second slower realizing what just happened, well, the law would have held me liable for hitting two people. Even though I would attempt to argue that I did due diligence on the brakes, and was braking from a safe distance (but when you're going 60 Km/h and your brakes fail it takes a moment to process what happened and what your solutions are,and what your fall back scenarios are going to be if the emergency brake doesn't work, and even then you're guessing just how quickly the emergency brake will stop you).

            In your case, you're saying what we all know. All data is dirty, and no one thing is 100% tolerant of all possible input cases from the dirty data (in addition to all other failures that can happen on a device). Our legal systems don't really play nice with the real world statistical probabilities of random failures, or how you ascribe blame to something that isn't intentional. It would be most unfortunate if a data entry clerk from 20 years ago is held liable because they typed a speed limit into a database as 80kph rather than the intended 60.

            I suppose in some ways it is similar to a national healthcare and medical malpractice problem. People die, all of us. Just as mechanical devices will eventually fail. If you individually mandate responsibility to service providers (drivers, mechanics, doctors) you end up with a much different system than if you collectivize the risk (think NHS in the UK). If the goal is a system that in general reduces accidents you need to move away from trying to assign blame on a case by case basis, and providers who consistently make mistakes can be dealt with internally- but you'll have to accept some sort of shared insurance system for the fact that accidents will happen. Whether that's manufacturers or operators who pay into it (or the government or points of sale or....) I don't know.

        • by jd (1658)

          The vaccine example in the summary suggests the designer can be exempt from all liability - even for genuine defects introduced by them, no matter how or why. I dislike blanket immunity. When there is an arguable case for genuinely defective design AND it would be reasonable for the manufacturer to know this (not all defects are knowable/identifiable in advance, but that doesn't mean all are) then there should be no automatic immunity.

          It may require a special court of experts to properly determine if it was

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      Seriously, why wouldn't Police be allowed to pull over autonomous vehicles?

      I think the question isn't so much "would the police be legally allowed to do it" as "how would a policeman actually go about doing it"?

      Will the car be programmed to watch for lights and a siren and pull itself over when it 'sees' them? Or would the policeman need to send a special "pull over" signal on a remote control? Etc.

      • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:57PM (#38824291) Journal

        I think the question isn't so much "would the police be legally allowed to do it" as "how would a policeman actually go about doing it"?

        Will the car be programmed to watch for lights and a siren and pull itself over when it 'sees' them? Or would the policeman need to send a special "pull over" signal on a remote control? Etc.

        If all else fails, why can't the occupant push the "Computer, please stop at the earliest safe location" button?

        (Such a function will be present, as it will fit right in next to the array of "I have to piss/puke/shit IMMEDIATELY" button(s).)

    • by adolf (21054)

      Of course police can pull over an "autonomous" car, for a myriad of perfectly valid reasons both related to traffic safety and not.

      And if the driver is asleep, and the car fails to stop on its own, someone gets a "fleeing and evading" citation/arrest/jail sentence like they would in any other road-going vehicle that fails to stop.

      I don't understand why "can police stop an autonomous car" is even a fucking question. Seriously.

    • How do you pull a car over with no one inside?

      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        Where did it say nobody was inside?

        Of course police will be able to pull over autonomous vehicles. They have to be able to. Vehicles must yield the right of way to emergency vehicles displaying the appropriate lights. As in, it's a fucking ambulance, pull over and stop moron.

        And what should the police do if a defective vehicle is creating a hazard to others? Let it go because it's autonomous? Like the Washington state police couldn't PIT a woman going the wrong way down the interstate for 60 miles, someti

        • by n5vb (587569)

          Where did it say nobody was inside?

          What if it has a "go find a remote parking site and come back and pick me up at (insert time here)" feature?

          (Yes, I know that part of that answer is "every valet parking company in the country sues the manufacturer", but you know someone's going to think of it. I did, years ago.)

        • by hedwards (940851)

          They're automomous, at some point they're likely to be operating on their own.

          But, either way, I'm sure at some point one of these things is going to arrive somewhere driving half way with a dead body because the driver died and there were no sensors to tell the car about the death.

          I'm guessing that when cars get to the point where they can basically go on autopilot for portions of the trip that they'll also have some sort of software to tell them to pull over when law enforcement says to.

          As for that driver

        • Does the Google vehicle travel by default in the left lane or the right lane? On a many lane road, ambulances will use whatever lane is clear, so pulling over may not be an issue. This behavior includes roads with only one lane both ways (welcome to Pennsylvania, where double yellow does not mean no-passing; sadly, I find myself increasingly supporting this, as the insanity of our roads seems to promote a 'liberal' interpretation of traffic laws). I swear our traffic engineers are the kids who flunked out o

      • send a cryptographically signed security API command, of course! what could possibly go wrong?

      • How do you pull a car over with no one inside?

        OnStar or similar.
    • by jd (1658)

      What's wrong with rocket launchers?

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Seriously, why wouldn't Police be allowed to pull over autonomous vehicles?

      Of course you have to give police the ability to stop these vehicles, if for no other reason than to avoid accidents or congestion. Not to mention the possibility of sending bombs or something.

      But its not always that easy. When was the last time you saw a policeman pull over an Elevator? Or an Escalator. Or the unmanned shuttle trains such as at SeaTac Airport [youtube.com] or Morgantown WV Personal Rapid Transit [wikipedia.org].

      Admittedly captured vehicles on their own tracks are not exactly the same as autonomous vehicles mixed wi

  • Let's be clear about a few things here:

    The police will have the authority to pull over an autonomous vehicle. Even in a perfect libertarian utopia, the police will have the authority to pull over an autonomous vehicle.

    Liability insurance on the first generations of autonomous vehicles will be insanely expensive.

    These things might work great when they're new, but I shudder to think of what the ongoing certification process will requrie as they age. Cars are mechanical things. They break down. They fail i

    • by scialex (1283788)
      "How well will it do in a Minnesota blizzard?"

      This one question will probably be what keeps these cars from being sold until at least a decade from now.
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:31PM (#38824101) Homepage Journal

    Some government, maybe even China, could embrace Autonomous Vehicles and press the technology forward (as an Authoritarian regime can) and find it improves public safety immensely (China has a high mortality rate on a high accident rate), further revealing other great benefits to their society - while people continue to wrestle with it in the US, over concerns as stated above.

    When I traveled around Europe on trains I was thrilled how carefree I could be about intercity travel and how fast and comfortable TGV/ICE can be. Then return to the US and arrive at the decision it is a backward country for dismantling most of its once far-reaching rail network in favor of a car (or two) for every adult - but that's how you get around, which means long trips are a major drag - you have to focus on the most tedius of activities for hours at a time - driving. Ugh. Autonomous Vehicles could alleviate some of this tedium.

    • by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:47PM (#38824217)

      I can see why in the US there is such resistance to autonomous vehicles: Small towns and counties depend on driver error, be it speeding, red light cameras, or stuff like that for revenue. An autonomous system means that everyone will be going the speed limit, so no tickets (and no chance at finding marijuana and thus earning a civil forfeiture prize) will be given.

      This is sad because the US is the perfect place for autonomous vehicles -- most cities are too sprawled out for even buses to be reliable, much less light rail. So, vehicles that drive themselves would be ideal because it would allow long distances to be covered with vehicles packed in as much as their computer and mechanical systems would allow, compared to current driving conditions which depend on the driver's ability/reactions (or lack of when compared to a computer.) Even for people who don't own a car, it wouldn't be hard to have a Car2Go/Zipcar like service.

      Even more ironic, with computer controlled cars, it would lesson the need for more and more highway improvements. Cars can be sped up or slowed down to allow vehicles in and out, they can be moved into lanes depending on their destination, and if there is a vehicle problem, it can be moved to the side of the road and traffic routed around it without putting the highway out of commission for hours on end. This would save a municipal area far more money than they ever would earn by speeding tickets.

      • by Zadaz (950521)

        I keep thinking this situation is exactly the same as the HDTV transition. It's inevitable, so the government just gives a deadline, hands out some coupons for free upgrades to your old technology, and then on Jan 1 2018 we're all on autodrive. If 100% of the cars on the road are robodrive, it takes a lot of the complexities out of it.

        Except that will never happen. The important difference is that automakers don't want autodrive cars. It would mean dramatically fewer cars sold because individuals wouldn't

    • Yes the same china where a small kid was run over and Many people in China are hesitant to help people who appear to be in distress for fear that they will be blamed. High-profile law suits have ended with good Samaritans ordered to pay hefty fines to individuals they sought to help.

      Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/watch_child_run_over_and_ignored_8fVgzdy3ipdh9NPDGEwlZL#ixzz1kWOR8hJr [nypost.com]

    • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:09PM (#38824367) Journal
      The district of Berlin, Germany, changed its local laws to allow automated vehicles. One model (made by local researchers) has been homologated so far.
    • by FriendlyPrimate (461389) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:13PM (#38824391)
      Even if it is adopted in a place like China, don't expect it to make a difference in the US. As you've already pointed out, intercity travel is fast and comfortable in Europe using trains, but Americans are blissfully unaware of anything that occurs outside of the states.
    • by khipu (2511498) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @11:31PM (#38825187)

      Then return to the US and arrive at the decision it is a backward country for dismantling most of its once far-reaching rail network in favor of a car (or two) for every adult

      The US hasn't dismantled its rail system--it still has the biggest rail system in the world, bigger than the entire EU taken together (in terms of miles). However, the US railway system is mainly used for freight, while people mostly drive.

      When I traveled around Europe on trains I was thrilled how carefree I could be about intercity travel and how fast and comfortable TGV/ICE can be

      It's fast and comfortable, but it's also a boondoggle and heavily subsidized. It's also not particularly environmently friendly, since it displaces a lot of freight traffic to the roads and often has to operate far below capacity. And even with all those wonderful trains, say, Germans still own as many cars per capita as Americans.

    • by khallow (566160) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @03:37AM (#38826179)

      When I traveled around Europe on trains I was thrilled how carefree I could be about intercity travel and how fast and comfortable TGV/ICE can be. Then return to the US and arrive at the decision it is a backward country for dismantling most of its once far-reaching rail network in favor of a car (or two) for every adult - but that's how you get around, which means long trips are a major drag - you have to focus on the most tedius of activities for hours at a time - driving. Ugh. Autonomous Vehicles could alleviate some of this tedium.

      I have several observations to make here. First, there are a lot of people who admire European trains, but have no idea how those are paid for. Sure, it'd be nice to have a US train paid for by European taxpayers, like how European trains are funded, but it's a wee bit unrealistic. So then the US would be stuck paying for US trains with hapless US taxpayers. That changes the US-oriented cost/benefit for such projects.

      Second, I find it terribly reprehensible to treat infrastructure projects like just another fad. I don't care that you think the US looks backwards for having such an advanced car-based transportation system. It should be, "Does this infrastructure project justify a reasonable estimate of its costs and benefits?" Not, "Uzbekistan has high speed rail so we should too."

      Finally, rail projects even in those European countries are notorious for being poor return on investment. And current US projects are laughably bad even by such standards.

      For example, it is routine for big high speed rail projects in the US to ignore maintenance and operations costs while grossly inflating ridership estimates. The same politicians who allocate large amounts of funds for construction won't provide for the costs of running that rail, effectively creating huge, long term money sinks for the state and local governments who end up running the system. That's the primary reason that Wisconsin and Florida backed out of high speed rail projects.

      Another example, which no doubt will become epic in its extent of failure, is the California High-Speed Rail project. They got a bunch of bond money in the last election cycle and subsequently greatly increased the cost estimate for completion of the rail ($36 billion in 2009 dollars to $65 billion in 2010 dollars). That's a "bait-and-switch" and they have yet to break ground. It also builds poorly used segments first so that the money is spent in a grotesquely inefficient way.

      At least, autonomous driving uses the primary strength of the US, it's well-developed road infrastructure and it plays well with what's already there. High speed rail is just a slow though comfortable plane. A lot of its advantage could be eliminated simply by putting in efficient security at airports.

  • by jjeffries (17675) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:37PM (#38824145)

    But they're magically exempt from liability so fuck you!

  • by hsmith (818216) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:43PM (#38824181)
    That are 100% human controlled in the USA. but the first death at the hands of autonomous vehicles will be all over CNN the first time it happens. There will be congressional investigations, Department of Transportation studies, and on and on - yet, ideally they theoretically take the worst part of driving out of the equation - the driver.
  • by swamp_ig (466489) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:46PM (#38824201)

    People moving is just the start for autonomous vehicles. The real revolution will be in moving goods with little micro-movers.

    Run out of milk? no problem, just order some on your fridge and it's at the front door in minutes. Want a hot dinner? Log into your local restraunt and order one to go.

    Taxi services will be cheap, affortable, and accessable. Noone need own a car anymore. No need for a garrage or driveway infront of your house. No need for traffic lights, aproaching cars will just 'book' a timeslot through the intersection, narrowly avoiding collisions with safety, speeding the journey to and fro and saving energy as you don't need to brake and accelerate anymore.

    Autonomous mobility is going to be truly revolutionary in the way we live.

    • yeah! when I was a kid I had a book from 1970 or so, describing how the year 2000 will be like. I don't remember most of it, but certainly people living in underwater cities of 70's design. you know, kinda like the the world we live in today, yes?

      oh, and it had those robocars, too. I still remember the pic of a family playing cards while "being driven" along the highway. I also recall huge, efficient farms... but what I don't recall is the book going a whole lot into politics, the gap between rich and poor,

    • by tknd (979052) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @12:11AM (#38825357)

      Eh, I'm not that excited about autonomous automobiles. I envision something more like Wall-e where people have so much automation that they become slobs. To some degree it already happened to the U.S. just from car culture. You no longer walk more than even a quarter mile a day. Your car sits just a few steps away in your home garage. The parking space is right next to the front door of the store or the office. Now all of your medical ailments are due to being in a chair for most of the day rather than using your body for what it was made for: to move yourself.

      I'm not sure why we need this when we've had the solution for quite a while. One trip to Tokyo will make you realize what we've ignored for perhaps the last 100 years in America. Tokyo itself is designed like real-life Disneyland. If you go to Disneyland and walk around in the park, you'll notice that it isn't so bad. Why? Because the inside of the park was designed for people, not cars. Tokyo is exactly like this. The center of the city was designed for people without cars. Trains and subways take you everywhere and come regularly. Thirsty? There's a vending machine 5 feet away, a convenience store 50 feet away. The closest train/subway station? A 5 minute walk. Pedestrian bridges over particularly busy streets. Buildings have no parking because nobody uses cars.

      What everyone thinks of Japan (besides the anime junk) is that it is a small tiny and crappy apartment with no living space. That's true, but it is only half of the story. Nobody takes a camera and shows you how long it takes to get to the closest convenience store, the closest market, the closest restaurant, or the closest train station. But it is all possible, with your two feet and public transit. Using a car in many ways is actually more inconvenient. As bad as the weather got, I didn't mind walking. In fact walking was more interesting. I could observe my surroundings. When I was driving, I was looking to protect myself. Sure, an autonomous car would change that, but there's more to this.

      When you get on (a not so busy) train there, you're free to read/sleep/play around on your phone. They already have the conveniences we dream of with autonomous cars simply because their city was built around people and transit.

      The strange thing is as busy as their city is, the actual living spaces away from the center of the chaos is quiet (as in no sound). Anywhere in the U.S. which is populated will have this incessant freeway/highway hum. It's annoying. Over there at worst you live next to a train station. The train itself isn't annoying, because they're all electrified and they don't blow their horns. Instead it's the stupid announcement message that the next train will be arriving soon...

      As soon as you step outside of the hotel or apartment you feel alive. You see people walking around. You can see people from the street and look into shops and see other people. That doesn't work in United Suburbia of America. Drive by the strip mall and you can barely glance inside. Get out of your car and now you're in "car defense" mode. Walk to another store on the other side of the strip mall and get tired because the parking lot is just too damn big. That's ridiculous.

      Since few people own a car, you wonder how they manage to buy large objects or transport things. The simple answer is they rent a car. Most people are called "paper drivers" because they get driving licenses but don't use them regularly. They just use it when convenient. Alternatively you can also have things delivered. Since people don't own their own cars, it is actually possible to work as a delivery man. You know...kinda how we solved distributing milk without refrigeration way back... (As a side note, I'm always confused why only Pizza is delivered in the U.S. but not other fast foods.)

      Every time I come back to the U.S. I'm annoyed. I know our cities don't have to be this way. We don't need novel solutions like autonomous cars to satisfy the living needs of 80% of the urban population. We

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @08:54PM (#38824275)

    Lets say a auto car thinks a small kid on who is crossing the road / fell down is some thing like a skunk and it just runs the kid over and keeps driving?

    What if a auto car drives though a road that closed off as some one did not mark it as so in a data base?

    Red light cameras and speed cameras who get's the ticket?

    Fails to see a school bus red lights / stop sign?

    • it wouldn't be criminal liability if the car owner was operating autonomously in good faith, just liability.

      I'd imagine a big-pocket company such as Google could offer blanket indemnity for all purchasers if it was sure that its product was very safe, i.e. it didn't think the autonomous cars would run over people very often. Same for traffic violations, they could offer to pay for any tickets if they were sure their systems were that good.

      If they *didn't* offer any such indemnity, and if there's no law shie

  • I have a simple formula: if the autonomous cars cause fewer accidents (maybe weighted by severity in some way) than a similar model of cars driven by humans, they are good.

    Why should autonomous cars have to be perfect, instead of just an incremental improvement over the norm?

  • The Real Problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:20PM (#38824421)
    It is likely that automation will produce vehicles that will perform better than human-driven cars, trucks, and buses. That would certainly result in fewer accidents, reduced congestion, and MUCH lower costs. In there lies the rub. Since the major cost component of commercial transportation is 'the driver', automation would put tens of millions of people out of work just in the United States. For example, with a fleet of smaller, electric vehicle, the entire bus system of a city could be replaced. Rides would cost on par with bus tickets, and service would be 'on demand' like taxi service without the tips. Many people would choose not to own a car if a 'chauffeur driven' vehicle were readily available 'for hire'. Commuting would be transformed, and rush hour traffic would become manageable, reducing construction for road expansion. Car sales would plummet, as would gasoline sales and body shop service. Cars and trucks could run coast to coast with only fuel stops; so could trains, reducing motel and restaurant revenues. These are just a few examples of the seachange.

    Every taxi, limo, bus, and truck driver will band together to stop this. Auto manufacturers, construction firms, and oil companies, fearing a drop in revenues, will join them. Lobbyist will fill every waiting room in Congress to ram 'drivers' rights' legislation. Their effort will make the RIAA look like kids watching Sesame Street.
  • by tragedy (27079) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:53PM (#38824641)

    The most important problem from my point of view is that the traffic laws don't always actually make sense. Near my house, there's a T junction about 20 meters from a red light. At the intersection, there's a stop line. They used to have a "do not block intersection" sign back at the T junction so that traffic could still turn down the side street. They've replaced it with a "stop here on red" sign. The intent seems to be to create two stop lines for the same red light. The actual law is largely ambiguous on this. It definitely doesn't address this particular situation, but it doesn't say that the town, _can't_ do it. Most people just completely ignore the sign. I just do what I always did before and I don't block the intersection when there's a red light. No-one seems to be able to tell if they're actually required to stop there and, if they do stop, if they have to stop like they'd stop at a red light, or it they have to stop like they'd stop at a stop sign, also, since the turn there is a right turn, and a right turn on red is allowed at a stop light in my state, is a right turn on red allowed there since it's not actually at the light?

    So, the problem is the law. It's not logically and consistently written like computer code, it's always open to interpretation. There are many situations where you legitimately can't tell you've broken the law until you've gone before a judge and they've decided. And then, there are many situations while driving where you either have to technically break the law or stop traffic for hours. Consider a left turn at a light where there isn't a separate left turn signal. If the traffic coming in the other direction is continuous, they have the right of way and you can't turn left unless you move to the middle of the intersection, wait for the light to change, then turn. This is illegal. It's what everyone does in that situation and, 9 times out of 10, a police officer watching you do this won't even care. But, consider the situation from a legal point of view. If it's a turning lane, you can't legally change lanes at the intersection to go straight. You can't legally turn left until there's an opening in traffic, which could literally be hours in some places and times, but you can't legally just sit there either, because that's blocking traffic. Aside from that one, there's the fact that you're legally required to stay in a lane unless you're changing lanes, but I've been on a lot of multi-lane roads where the lanes haven't been marked, either because they were faded completely, or because they'd been removed for repainting (months before the repainting in some cases). Legally speaking, all the cars should be grouping into one lane in the dead center of the twenty meter wide stretch of road. That's insane. What everyone actually does is illegally estimate where the lanes should be and travel in them side by side. Then there's yellow and red lights. There are intersections where you cannot avoid running a red light. For starters, you don't know how long the green light and yellow light will last before the red. The guidelines for most states for the length of the lights don't even seem to take the speed limit and the width of the intersection into account and the guidelines often aren't followed anyway. Which means that there are many intersections where, even if the light changes to yellow _after_ you've crossed the stop line, you can't make it all the way across before the red light unless you're speeding. Also, where the intersection actually ends and you're no longer bound by the light is poorly defined both in law and in physical reality. Most people consider themselves clear when they can no longer see the light, but obviously that's at a different point depending on where the light is mounted. Stop lines are another issue. You have to stop at the stop line, but the stop line isn't always in the right place for you to actually see if there are cars coming. Often, you have to stop at the stop line, then move forward (sometimes quite a large distance), then stop again or do a ro

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      Your examples are cases where you don't understand the law - not where it is inconsistent. Let me explain:

      Consider a left turn at a light where there isn't a separate left turn signal. If the traffic coming in the other direction is continuous, they have the right of way and you can't turn left unless you move to the middle of the intersection, wait for the light to change, then turn. This is illegal

      No it is not. This is actually the correct thing to do, and my driving instructor practiced it with me several times.

      Which means that there are many intersections where, even if the light changes to yellow _after_ you've crossed the stop line, you can't make it all the way across before the red light unless you're speeding.

      It is legal to enter the intersection on the green/yellow and then exit after the red has changed. The law states that all other drivers must yield to the vehicle in the intersection. So you have the right of way, even after the light turns red. To make this clearer: Suppose you pull

  • by mapkinase (958129) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @12:11AM (#38825359) Homepage Journal

    > Simple questions, like whether the police should have the right to pull over autonomous vehicles, have yet to be answered

    Police is driving autonomous vehicles that autonomously stop autonomous vehicles that catch the autonomous eye when local autonomous government needs to replenish its autonomous budget. We just have to watch those events unraveling with detached gaze from the passenger seat in the vehicle of life

  • by Strykar (1161463) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @12:14AM (#38825375)
    .. everything looks like a nail. Perhaps it's time to not evaluate based on results and feedback within a political term. Expecting this unfortunately seems like a pipe dream. http://www.et3.com/ [et3.com] - Evacuated tube transport
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday January 26, 2012 @02:53AM (#38826027) Homepage

    The legal problems are solveable. We already have a whole insurance system in place to deal with auto accident liability. The only question is how much auto insurance will cost for driverless vehicles. Once there's some experience with them, insurance rates can be set.

    The legal history of air bags is helpful here. When air bags were first developed, there were real worries that they might deploy when not needed and cause accidents. That's why air bag controllers have logging of the last few seconds, and why that data is collected and analyzed. It took a few years and a few thousand crashes to get that tuned properly. Now it's a non-issue.

    There are many practical problems to be solved, especially for driving in congested areas. But most of those problems are known, and can be solved one at a time.

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