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Transportation Technology

Autonomous Vehicles and the Law 417

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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  • 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 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.

  • This raises a good point... autonomous vehicles need to be programmed to safely pull off to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle has its lights flashing and siren on. It then has to wait there until it is safe to rejoin traffic. Do the current ones do that?

  • 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 Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @09:18PM (#38824407)

    What is the best way to construct an eyeball from hydrogen atoms?

    We don't know and it depends on the definition of "best", but it's almost certainly never happened before. Human eyes have glaring flaws -- blind spot, limited colour receptivity, unimpressive resolution compared to some known alternatives, relatively high light requirements, easily damaged, degrades over time, inconsistent with many humans having very poor vision even at their peak, easily damaged by the giant space explosion that is continuously running in the sky for ~half of the average day, slow to adjust to dimmer lighting conditions, limited range of motion and extremely limited independent range of motion. Some other animals correct those flaws but have other flaws all of their own. Evolution actually does a very poor job of finding globally optimal solutions, but it does a reasonable job at identifying local maxima / minima of sufficient signifiance, and hanging around in the area of same maxima / minima.

    Our super computers and dedicated scientists can't even predict the weather terribly accurately; what makes you think any "expert" has the slightest clue how to predict and control social, technological, and economic development?

    Unstated assumption: that the weather is consistently less complicated than these other things.

    The laws should emerge from reality, not from a committee of bureaucrats.

    I'm not quite sure what that means. No law (as in, legal law) has ever "emerged from reality" in any sense that I can understand the phrase.

  • 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.
  • Re:I Guarantee (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr Max ( 1696200 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2012 @10:39PM (#38824893)
    The car would be able to respond to a police car and it's flashing lights the same way a human would. It's not hard to see and the police should follow a fairly similar procedure every time they want to pull some one over so you could recognise that the same way as you recognise another car's intent on the road (i think the police are more worried about the huge reduction in accidents, speeding and drink driving which could put a lot of them out of the job). Sure crooks could make their car look like a cop car and put some flashing lights on it, but they could do that now to human drivers. Also i'm not saying it would be impossible to steal an autonomous car but with the kind of electronic security, cameras, and gps data it has, it would make it harder then taking a normal car. The biggest problem is people wont know who to sue if something does go wrong; which is ridiculous because this technology would reduce traffic and accidents (and if less people die what's the problem) while acting as a personal taxi for your family and friends.
  • 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 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 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. [] - Evacuated tube transport

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern