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Essay: Regulation of self driving technology

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  • Subject area(s): Information technology essays Law essays
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  • Published: September 2, 2021*
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  • Regulation of self driving technology
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In the age of hyper-intelligent technology, the self-driving car is one of the first to burst on to the transportation scene. It has taken the forefront of political discussions due to its groundbreaking potential. By definition, a self-driving car is a car where human drivers are never required to operate the vehicle (“Self Driving Cars Explained”). However, the current technology does not meet those standards. The cars are not reliable enough to put complete trust in driving with minimal human input. Stemming from these deficiencies, the talking point of the cars is regulating . In the United States of America, the lack of effective regulation is a result of car companies being reluctant support state regulation and a lack of convincing data and public support to back the technology. Implementing these cars has led to deadly road conditions and defective regulation, but, despite those dangerous conditions, there is still time for federal regulation that will improve safety and set standards on the implementation of these cars.

In 1885, the first automobile was made by Karl Benz. As society has improved and adapted, automobiles have been improved in almost every aspect. The newest step forward for the automobile industry is the self-driving car. They are being produced, but worldwide use is currently a dream due to large car companies, government, and the public. Companies that produce self-driving cars are sensitive about sharing data due to the competitive industry. However, they are confident enough to be lobbying for federal regulation. Federal regulation would set standards for them to confidently implement the cars. The state governments want the cars to be tested in their boundaries, which causes conflicts. State governments have started putting regulation on the cars, but because of how varied it can be from state to state, car companies desire federal regulation. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, 41 states have considered self-driving car regulation since 2012. As of 2017, 33 of them have actually passed regulation (“Autonomous Vehicles – Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation”). This number will continue to rise, signifying a greater confusion in the industry. The federal government wants these cars to be tested, so they support the car companies’ endeavors. They passed the Self Drive Act in 2017 to help jumpstart the idling process (Nader). It is a start, but is nowhere near the ideal federal regulation needed to implement self-driving cars. A new voluntary guidance was introduced to the federal government, called AV 3.0, will adjust roadblocks previously barring the sale of autonomous vehicles (Atiyeh). The federal government is obviously supporting these companies, but barriers still stand. A factor holding everything back is the public. The new technology has presented many doubts and scares that has made a majority of the public anxious about its permanent implementation.
Without public support for these self-driving cars, implementing substantial regulation would lead to backlash. Due to recent accidents that have been greatly publicized, the public’s doubt in self-driving cars is growing. Even since the accidents, the amount of self-driving cars has grown. As more come to market, the industry could face consequences. These consequences will come from the majority of the public that have doubts about this new technology. A Pew Research Center survey in 2017 showed, “Slightly more than half of U.S. adults (54%) said … that they were somewhat or very worried about the development of driverless vehicles,” (Gramlich). This foreshadows significant backlash by the public if the cars come to market. As long as the potentially damaging vehicles come to market, the public will have doubts, and rightly so. Since the autonomous vehicles have had an unprecedented rise, the media has been all over them. The increased media coverage, however, has led to a negative view of the cars. The negative view must have contributed to a survey by American Automobile Association, which found, “Today, three-quarters (73 percent) of American drivers report they would be too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle, up significantly from 63 percent in late 2017,” (“Trust in Autonomous Vehicles Slips”). The increase in those afraid is a result of the accidents that are widely publicized. The recent accidents not only present safety concerns to those inside the self-driving cars, but also others on the road. As more cars are implemented on roads, there will be more reports of accidents. The importance of these surveys is that it reveals that the public would not be accepting of federal regulation. The federal regulation would give a baseline for implementing the cars onto any road in the country. Eventually, companies will have to put fleets of the self-driving cars on the roads, which will lead to more worries for the already weary public. Overall, public backlash and coverage has not been good for the government and their progress to support the vehicles.
In addition to the public’s doubt, the self-driving car companies are not helping their cause. As of right now, data sharing on self-driving cars is not enforced on car companies by the government. This is a big problem, as data sharing has great importance because without it, there is no way of measuring the reliability with concrete statistics. According to Jack Stilgoe of the Issues in Science and Technology journal, “Data-sharing is not just important when machines go wrong. If self-driving pioneers are prioritizing machine learning, then we should ask why they can’t learn from one another as well as from their own data sources,” (Stilgoe). Data-sharing would help the regulation process and other car companies take great strides. With the lack of data-sharing, it’s difficult to put effective regulation on the cars. States don’t have enough information to properly judge cars just based off of accidents covered by the media.The states are not just sitting by, though.

According to Jack Karsten and Darrell West of The Brookings Institution, “Many other state laws call for studies of autonomous driver systems, though no states have yet published their findings,” (Karsten and West). There may be laws, but the lack of enforcement of them is causing a problem. This problem is centered around the prominent companies that are developing the autonomous vehicles. Because of the competitive nature that is present in every industry, the companies that make self-driving cars (Tesla, Uber, Volvo, etc.) are reluctant to share their data. By publishing their studies, other companies are free to use their data and get ahead of them by learning from their mistakes and research. The companies’ approach to data sharing exemplifies their protective nature of their products. Although a chance at profit drives companies, they are halting the process of state and federal regulation.

The reluctance of these companies is not only limited to data-sharing. Many automobile companies are reluctant to see more state regulation on these self-driving cars due to the disruption to the car industry that would ensue. Companies that span all of America are confused because every state varies on how they regulate. For example, individual states differ on simple things like the definition of ‘vehicle operator’ (Karsten and West). These small distinctions in state regulation will add on and create large problems. If states continue to pass regulation, it will become even harder to try to implement these cars and enact future regulation. For self-driving car owners, they only have to worry about a small amount of state regulation. Companies, especially the large ones, have to worry about every single state because their products are sold in every state. A big contributor to this problem is that the cars do not place themselves in a single area. According to attorney Sharon Klein, a partner for Pepper Hamilton LLP, “There’s this whole gray ground about who is in the best position to regulate these new cars, which go beyond the traditional car into almost driving a computer and software,” (qtd. in Ohnsman). Regulation not only has to concern itself with the car industry, but also with the computer software industry. This shows the scope of confusion that comes with self-driving technology. The blame, however, does not fall on the governments, as they support the companies. The problem is the lack of time they have had to create regulation. All fifty states would need more time to implement useful standard regulation for companies to be satisfied. Therefore, a competent array of state regulation will not be happening any time soon.

Due to this lack of effective state regulation to combat the negative aspects of self-driving technology, there have been more regulation and safety problems. In a rush to place regulation on self-driving cars, the federal government enacted unsound laws that lack safety standards. These laws are also being enacted for the wrong reasons. Resulting from the lack of successful regulation, the government decided to step in and do something. They passed the Self Drive Act, which was not accepted well. In response, Ralph Nader, who is an expert on car safety, states, “Mr. Thune’s bill neglects cybersecurity requirements to protect driverless cars from hacking — the kinds of cyberattacks, malware and data breaches that have occurred in other sectors of the economy,” (Nader). Instead of planning and revising ways to safely enact regulation, they rushed. By enacting this regulation, more safety problems will occur because it will apply in every state. This type of regulation is detrimental, because it also allowed companies to potentially sell unlimited amounts of the autonomous vehicles. As a result, car companies are now presented a gateway to implement self-driving cars throughout the country that pose safety hazards to the public. This is no fluke, because a major reason the federal government rushed was because large companies were lobbying the government, federal and state, to enact regulation. According to Andrew Hawkins, a transportation reporter for The Verge, “State governments are currently rushing to enact permissive regulations for autonomous vehicles in the hopes of convincing high-level companies launch testing programs within their borders,” (Hawkins). As expressed here, there is evident corruption and manipulation going on in the federal government, all started by the initial lack of safe regulation. The corrupted process shows that money is valued over safety for both the government and the companies.

The car companies, after succeeding in getting what they want, have also begun to rush in their implementation. With automobile companies rushing to create and implement these autonomous vehicles, the safety is not perfected and up to par. Not only is there a lack of useful state regulation, there is a lack of federal regulation ensuring safe conditions on the road. Both state and federal regulation do not do enough to limit the major downside of the self-driving cars. This downside is the potential safety issues. Now that companies could potentially sell unlimited amounts of autonomous vehicles without up to par safety standards, they will naturally want to be the first to test within a state’s borders. This high demand for testing leads self-driving cars to be raw and unrefined. There have been many crashes throughout the several years that self-driving cars have been implemented, and it reflects the regulation they have. Tesla’s self-driving car recently had a crash while backing out of a garage. Drew Harwell of the Washington Post puts it simply by stating, “The car had failed disastrously, during the simplest of maneuvers, using one of the most basic features from the self-driving technology he and his family had trusted many times at higher speeds,” (Harwell). The unpredictability of self-driving cars is a significant problem. There is no certainty that the car won’t swerve off of the road and kill 30 civilians while driving autonomously. It all relies on Artificial Intelligence and the sensors that it uses. This is not the only problem. The larger, overhanging problem is that the governments are not doing anything to prevent this problem or have failed in trying.
In order to provide a safe future for self-driving cars, there needs to be a couple of priorities. Federal regulation that increases the safety of self-driving cars and commands a gradual approach to the implementation of them will effectively diminish the potentially damaging setbacks of the cars. Much of the public backlash surrounding these cars is that fact that they are being forced onto the public. To give time for the public to adjust and the safety to improve, companies and government should slow down. Jack Barkenbus, a writer for the National Academy of Sciences, an organization of leading science researchers, states, “I believe a more compelling case can be made for taking a more measured and incremental approach to automation. The strongest argument for a go-slow–or at least go-slower–approach is that the public has yet to join the automation bandwagon,” (Barkenbus). If the public is more accepting of the regulation and product, the transition into a world of self-driving cars will be smoother. The public first need to have trust in the government to regulate competently, but then trust in the self-driving cars to be safe as well. Going slow will give the public time to familiarize itself with the technology while on the roads. There is also the counterargument that self-driving cars need to be implemented as soon as possible. Daniel Araya, Ph.D., a tech consultant and advisor to the government, states, “Studies suggest that AVs could save over half a million lives each decade. In addition to saving lives, self-driving cars will mean significant cost savings: Traffic accidents cost $500 billion worldwide each year,” (Araya). Although this argument may be sound in terms of the statistics, the time it would take to put these cars on the road would be immense. Also, there would be no regulation on the cars, so companies could sell first models of their cars to the public with inadequate safety standards. Yes, autonomous vehicles can save money, but to do that it would take maybe a decade to get everything in the industry correct. That is why gradual implementation is necessary. Also, the transition to a country of self-driving technology is not a small change. Jack Stilgoe expresses this effectively when he states, “It is not merely a matter of replacing a human driver with a computer. The futures on offer would involve changing the world as well as the car. The transformations will be unpredictable and intrinsically political,” (Stilgoe). Implementing the technology gradually on the roads will allow for other drivers to get a feel for being on the road with them. The world would indeed be changed, with many cities currently preparing plans for their arrival. New York City is planning to complement their transit systems with the self-driving cars (Badger). With cities already preparing for the change, the government and the car companies must make sure they go about implementation the right way.

Although the world will be changed, the government still needs to work together to make the transition contain little to no errors. To set safe standards for the implementation of the self-driving cars, well informed companies must share information and plan ideas with the government: local, state, and federal governments. The federal government, with advisement from self-driving car companies, should set a broad base that all self-driving car companies and owners will follow. These standards would include things like cyber security tests, crash tests for driver and passenger safety, and tests on how well the cars can drive without a driver. Although every company has a different agenda on their products, coming together would benefit everyone. Tim Bajarin, a worker for an unnamed US state on tech issues, including autonomous vehicle regulation, believes, “It would be in their best interests if they pool their efforts together and come up with what might be a set of first-generation rules that can be applied to ‘Fleet Use,’” (Bajarin). By coming up with first generation rules, the standards are set and can be adapted to fit future improvements in the technology. The companies can lay down their ideas and help figure out the most effective regulation for the new technology. This will allow to regulation that can limit the potentially damaging setbacks of self-driving cars. Companies would only be slowing themselves down by declining to help the government, or giving them false information. According to Jack Barkenbus, “Establishing federal regulation would streamline commercialization and provide the car companies with greater certainty,” (Barkenbus). Therefore, it is in the companies’ best interests to collaborate on creating regulation to implement their cars. There still may be some problems regarding the scope of the federal regulation, specifically regarding the state and local regulation. It is incredibly important that all the complex problems with state and local regulation are fixed, or else federal laws could be ignored in certain situations. There are many murky areas with state laws in relation to federal laws, where the weather, terrain, and congestion have to be taken into account. If the local, state, and federal governments collaborate as well, these areas of confusion can be cleared up. Once standard federal regulation is set, the companies can confidently, altough slowly, implement the self-driving cars.

Information provided by by the companies will make it easier for roads to be safer under regulation, but the technology itself can also improve greatly. If large companies that have already implemented self-driving vehicles can spend greater time to improve their technology, it would be easier to regulate and implement the cars. Although safety concerns may arise from the amount and the various types of autonomous vehicles on the road, the reliability is still improving. Improving the technology would lessen the doubt that the public have about it. The best way that companies can improve their cars would be to test them, but not where it puts lives at risk. Volvo, for example, is trying to validate the safety of their self-driving technology. Erik Coelingh, the Volvo Leader for Safety and Driver Support Technologies, states, “We will have to prove that the self-driving car is safe in the environment in which it is used. There will be huge efforts to verify that the Drive Me cars are safe in Gothenburg traffic,” (Coelingh). Volvo is already taking the right steps to the implementation of their self-driving cars. They are staying local, and not rushing to place these cars into society. The difficulty in placing these self-driving cars on real roads is that is has to learn as it goes. Contrary to Volvo’s approach, being reckless in testing the technology will only lead to more problems and backlash. By improving the safety of the cars and testing them in an environment with low risk, it will be less stressful on the government to install regulation and on society to accept the cars. The government would have less to worry about if the cars are completely reliable because they would not need to regulate extensive testing on real roads. Tesla already have billions of miles on real roads with only small malfunctions of the technology using advanced drivers assistance with an approach to fully self-driving cars (“Introducing Navigate on Autopilot”). As more companies are improving their products and testing them out with low risk, the future of self-driving cars is taking a step in the right direction. All of the contributions to the safety of self-driving cars will help future regulation be swift and effective.
Overall, a gradual approach to implementing self-driving cars with a focus on car safety and collaborative regulation will bring about great benefits for American transportation. This would amend the regulation mistakes made due to the hasty government and diminish the damaging setbacks of the technology. This approach will meet barriers, like greedy companies, corrupted governments, and a doubtful public. These barriers must be addressed and dealt with to create a successful end product consisting of the car and the regulation. By solving the problem of inefficient regulation in the correct way, many lives and dollars will be saved. Also, it will set the stage for a future of autonomous technology that can be applied to other forms of transportation.

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