Simanaitis Says

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WHAT WITH my muted enthusiasm for self-driving vehicles, I confess to a bit of cherry-picking by gleaning highlights from the article “Self-Driving Policy Vacuum?” by Eric Kulisch in Automotive News, June 19, 2017.

Eric Kulisch begins this article with a truism on the matter: “Autonomous driving technology moves fast. The federal government doesn’t.”

Leaving it to state DMVs doesn’t help either: Mitch Bainwoll, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in Senate Commerce Committee testimony, “A patchwork of different requirements across states is a recipe for delayed deployment, and delayed realization of the safety and mobility benefits of autonomy.”

An Acura autonomous test car on a course in California. Image from Automotive News, June 19, 2017.

Kulisch notes, “Senators John Thune, R-S.D.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and Gary Peters, D-Mich. have released principles they plan to follow in drafting legislation in the next few weeks.” Included are prioritize safety; modernize existing performance standards to address autonomous vehicles; ensure technical neutrality; clarify separation of authorities; address cybersecurity vulnerabilities; and address how companies can educate the public on self-driving vehicles.


I’ve touched on some of the technical and ethical challenges in transition to self-driving vehicles. For the government’s definitions, see SimanaitisSays “Autonomous Blues. For ethical aspects, see ”Autonomous Kills, tracing all the way back to the philosophical quandary “On Bilingual Trolley Accidents.”

Image from MIT Technology Review, July 29. 2015.

As for the public’s readiness for vehicle autonomy, see Automotive News Editor-in-Chief Keith Crain’s “Who Wants Driverless Cars?” He wrote, “By now, I would have thought that someone somewhere would have insisted that we find out if people really want these options, and if they do, at what price. Of course, this might contradict what everyone wants to hear.”

There I go, cherry-picking again. And, note, Keith Crain is another gray-top….

Kulisch’s article notes there are 16 bills currently in both chambers of Congress related to self-driving cars. What’s more, he writes, “… lawmakers and regulators at the state level had had a head start…. So far this year, 70 bills in 30 states have been proposed, according to industry lobbyists.”

Kulisch writes, “Federal safety standards for conventional vehicles preempt state rules, enabling automakers to sell the same car or truck in all states. But states have authority to set testing, reporting, liability, insurance, and other requirements related to vehicle behavior on the road.”

Speaking of behavior, I perceive another challenge: The Trump administration’s ignorance of science has become legendary. And its grasp of ethics, another nuance of vehicle autonomy, is alarming.

The show ain’t over ’til the self-driving car beeps. Or tweets? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017


  1. sabresoftware
    August 26, 2017

    True autonomous cars or probably better defined as driverless cars would come into effect when all vehicles are either part of a large transportation network directed by a master central computer (scary enough concept) or ALL vehicles are equipped to intercommunicate and basically negotiate rights-of-way at ALL interactions. The current scenario where some cars are independently replacing human driver control of some or all aspects with automation is not a viable solution.

    My current vehicle has demonstrated systems failure of several driver’s aids. The lane proximity feature has failed on at least two occasions under slushy road conditions when the sensors were covered by a thin layer of ice. The back up camera has failed to come on a number of times. For me both systems were supplementary features that added information, but were never the sole source of information.

    A natural response of an autonomous car to failed systems might be to remove the vehicle from the roadway upon failure of critical systems. So, say the lane proximity system fails and the cameras decide to go awol at the same time, how exactly does the car manouever across three lanes of traffic on the freeway with critical systems gone dark? With a full central control or interactive communications system this might be achievable. With a truly autonomous car this would probably just result in an accident, possibly even a multi-vehicle incident.

    There are so many scenarios that I can think of where automated cars would “fail”. To have a fully automated system with all the necessary infrastructure necessary to support it would require an investment of an unimaginable magnitude, when we can’t even maintain or build out our current system for human operated vehicles.

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