Governments need to move at the same pace as autonomous technology to maximize potential.
Automakers and tech giants are in a race to get an autonomous vehicle into mass production and onto the roads. Developers of unrelated tech, like Dyson, are even in on the game. But with so much focus on getting a computer behind the wheel, it seems that law-makers need to play catch-up on how this brave new world will work.
Given that self-driving vehicles still require a functioning driver to take over in the event the technology lets us down, the laws surrounding these vehicles are up for speculation. If you’re legally blind, can you “drive” a self-driving car? If you’ve had a few too many drinks, can your self-driving car legally get you home? The current answer to those questions and others like them is no. The driver must not be impaired or limited in a way that makes him or her unable to take control of the vehicle.
What’s the point?
If we’re not offering visually impaired people the ability to get to work or run errands independently, or if we’re not making the roadways safer by virtually eliminating the concept of drunk driving, why are so many entities so invested in the concept? This rush to roadway amounts to nothing more than letting the driver eat a sandwich and watch the scenery if it’s not actually improving transportation.
OK to drink ‘drive’?
As is often the case with new innovation, the technology comes along first and then the law catches up. That’s the case here, as Australia’s National Transport Commission (NTC) is already advocating for a change in the law. The agency compares riding home in a self-driving car while under the influence to taking a taxi cab home while drunk. That analogy is only strengthened by the number of companies who are either jointly or independently working on autonomous vehicle ride hailing services.
Are you culpable as the backseat passenger of a self-driving Uber car if there’s an accident? It would appear not. In that instance, even while you’re sober, you do not own the Uber vehicle and therefore have no responsibility for taking over the wheel if the vehicle malfunctions. Therefore, the NTC feels the ownership of the car shouldn’t determine whether or not the technology is the human’s responsibility.