News on Driverless Cars

Sometimes the news cycle has a way of juxtaposing stories in such a way that interesting questions are raised.


On 9/13/17, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its report on the 2016 fatal crash involving a 40 year old man driving a Tesla car that was being operated by its experimental Autopilot system. The Board found, among other things, that the Autopilot contributed to the crash because the software permitted the driver’s “prolonged disengagement from the driving task” and allowed the driver to use the system on the wrong type of road. According to the Chairman, “In this crash, Tesla’s system worked as designed, but it was designed to perform limited tasks in a limited range of environments.” Or, said another way, the system is not ready for the real world we live in.


On the same day, Elaine Chao, Trump’s appointee to head the United States Department of Transportation and the wife of United States Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, gave a speech wherein she announced that government policy will be to ask automakers and tech companies to voluntarily submit safety assessments to her agency, but that they don’t have to do it. She also said that states are being advised to use a light regulatory hand.


It seems exceedingly strange that the government is taking such a cavalier, hands-off (pun intended) approach to the safety of Americans. Whatever happened to that old “trust but verify” slogan?


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