In typical “invent it all” fashion, the US government is struggling to keep up with the latest in software, tech, and innovation, as it works to regulate the use of the latest in modern conveniences. Case in point: Tesla’s self-driving car software won’t be road ready for quite some time as the government tries to figure out how to regulate it (They can’t seem to regulate Volkswagen’s
environmental destruction software emissions cheating software, but they can sure jump on this one…never mind).
This isn’t a new problem for innovators. The government is still trying to figure out the rights and wrongs of unmanned drone operation, especially for private use and commercial business applications. A recent article in Outside magazine described in heart-breaking detail how one of the life-saving uses for drones–dropping small explosives on ski resorts during to spark avalanches under controlled conditions, in order to avoid the loss of life associated with unplanned, natural avalanches–is on hold, thanks to lack of regulations. In effect, the government has said, “We don’t have the rules in place for you just yet, but you can’t do it until we get the rules.”
In the case of Tesla though, there’s an even bigger problem behind the current government ban: user stupidity. In recent videos posted of drivers engaging the Autopilot feature of their Tesla Model S vehicles, issues that arose were clearly in direct violation of the manufacturer’s requirements. Drivers are required to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times, even when engaging Autopilot. The software, which is still in beta, is intended for the driver to relax a little bit, not lean the seat back and take a nap; this is an especially important feature in times of driver fatigue or poor weather conditions, and not intended to be a complete substitute for safe driving behaviors.
But since a few bad apples have ruined it for the rest of Tesla’s customers, the company will be working with the government if there’s any hope of getting these tests road-approved and regulated. One possible problem-solving option would be for the car to immediately lose acceleration if the hands are not detected on the wheel, but then that would be subject to regulation as well.