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Hawaii to Consider Self-Driving Car Law

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Google Robocar Racetrack Ride

The photographer writes: "There are times when I want to drive, and times when being a driving machine feels more like the drudgery that is better left to the machines. Or when you are tired, or want a designated driver for an evening out."

Hawaii could be the next state to legalize driverless cars, a technology that promises to go a long way towards preventing car accidents, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says cause around 40,000 deaths per year on America’s roads. Nevada has already made progress in driverless car law, and Florida is looking into such laws as well.

In a news report on Thursday, Michele Van Hessen wrote in Hawaii Reporter┬áthat Hawaii Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai — Kalama Valley) has introduced legislation to allow driverless cars in Hawaii. Ward’s bill is modeled after Nevada’s law that allowed Google to test its driverless car technology in that state.

Referring to testing of the Google autonomous car in California, Ward said, “In road tests conducted on the West Coast with a driverless vehicle for over 100,000 miles, there was not a single accident, according to my discussions with Google executives. If we want Hawaii to be energy independent, and if we want safer and less congested roads, then we need legislation that paves the way for technological advances like driverless cars.”

As Van Hessen writes:

Google’s driverless cars use artificial intelligence software, global positioning systems and sensors to navigate. Because machines don’t become angry, distracted or tired, and because they can be aware of more things at once, they can potentially operate vehicles more safely than human drivers. The two accidents that Google’s driverless cars have been involved in since 2010 were caused by human drivers.

You can see this blog’s report about one of those human-driver-caused accidents here.

Last Tuesday (before the Hawaii news was announced), NPR’s Audie Cornish interviewed Bryant Walker Smith, who studies driverless car technology and policy at Stanford University, for a segment called “Where is Driverless Car Technology Now?” Here is an excerpt from that audio interview, as it appears transcribed on

CORNISH: So, Bryant, to start, where is driverless car technology at this point?

SMITH: It’s on the horizon. The engineers in industry that I talk with say that the technical obstacles, while there still are some, are on their way to being solved. Now, predictions for when we might actually be able to buy that technology, I’ve heard in the order of 10 years as being the most optimistic.

CORNISH: Describe a little what Nevada and Florida are trying to do in terms of their regulations.

SMITH: So Nevada is much further along in the process, which is to say that the two Houses have passed and the governor had signed a law, and their Department of Motor Vehicles is currently developing draft regulations implementing that law. What those regulations will do when they’re ultimately finalized is say explicitly, under certain conditions, driverless vehicles are legal in the state. Before we get to that stage, though, the legislation and the regulations also set up a regime for testing so that automobile manufacturers and others can come into the state and actually test these vehicles on the road.

CORNISH: And can you describe what you think is the biggest legal question that’s going to face this technology as it moves forward?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: One of the big questions is: At what point does the driver become the machine? If you think about autonomous technology as a spectrum, on one hand, we have basic cruise control in most cars today. On the other hand, we have the visions that we’ve been talking about of a vehicle without anybody in it or with everybody who’s in it asleep or completely distracted. At what point can we say, as a legal matter, the driver does not need to pay attention, the driver is not responsible for what the car does? When we reach that point, then we reach some real value judgments.

You can hear the entire NPR audio interview in a link on the same page.

Image by jurvetson (Steve Jurvetson), used under its Creative Commons license.


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