self-driving cars

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey met with a panel Monday to discuss laws that would regulate self-driving vehicles in the state, according to an article by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, on Yuma Sun. Google and General Motors are already testing autonomous cars on Arizona roads. And Uber, the ride-sharing company, is developing technology with the University of Arizona.

Fischer said that apparently, there are no laws to prevent manufacturers from marketing self-driving vehicles to consumers, and similarly no laws specifying to what extent, if any, a human needs to be ready to take over the controls to avoid a car accident.

Factors That Will Affect Autonomous Vehicle Laws

At the meeting, John Halikowski, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, asked how the laws will address important factors and raised other concerns, including:

  • Does a person need a driver’s license to operate a self-driving vehicle?
  • Must an adult be present in an autonomous car bringing children to or from school?
  • How can hackers be prevented from operating self-driving cars?
  • Who gets a ticket if an autonomous vehicle exceeds the speed limit, the human sitting behind the wheel, or the human who programmed the vehicle’s software?

Benefits, Dilemmas of Self-Driving Vehicles

Halikowski said there are many good things about driverless vehicles, for example, nearly all of the approximately 35,000 fatal accidents in the United States in the past year were determined to be caused by driver error (in a fully autonomous vehicle would presumably operate without driver input). Another benefit is that self-driving vehicles would give disabled and elderly people more autonomy.

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said there are many moral dilemmas that must be resolved. For instance, a car’s software must decide in a split second who or what to avoid and who or what to hit.

Insurance and Autonomous Vehicles

Because of these questions, the panel includes representatives of the Department of Insurance, said Kevin Biesty, ADOT’s legislative liaison. Driverless cars still don’t have enough of a track record to inform how they will be handled by insurance.

But Worsley said he favors the technology: “[I]t’s going to be the next big high-tech revolution.”

Community member Nancy McDaniel echoed that thought when she told KSAZ Phoenix:

I know that when you lose your license, you become dependent on other people, and that’s the reason older people don’t want to give up their licenses, so with the self-driving cars, we’ll be able to stay independent way longer.

Autonomous Car Policy in Pennsylvania

In a related news item, Michelle Merlin writes for The Morning Call that a Pennsylvania task force, whose job it is to create policies for testing autonomous vehicles, has already discussed getting rid of the state’s only law regarding self-driving vehicles.

The Autonomous Vehicle Testing Policy Task Force, whose first meeting was in June, includes members from the Federal Highway Administration, state police, state agencies, AAA, and the Pittsburgh council, as well as industry representatives. They said that eliminating the law, which requires a driver to be behind the wheel at all times, would help Pennsylvania to stand out among other states.

That state’s Senate had previously introduced legislation providing some rough guidelines for testing autonomous vehicles, such as requiring insurance companies to develop policies for the vehicles, and the reporting of crashes. Officials are hoping self-driving car companies will want to test their vehicles in Pennsylvania because its terrain and climate offer testing opportunities not available in other states.

Image by Odoroaga Monica/123RF.

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