Tech companies and auto makers need to join forces and educate regulators on self-driving cars, or rules of the road will never get off the ground.
To hear Google or Uber tell it, self-driving cars are almost ready for prime time. After all, you can already summon an autonomous Uber in Pittsburgh and Arizona, while a test of Google’s self-driving car effort—an Alphabet subsidiary now known as Waymo—will hit the road in hybrid minivans this year.
I have the privilege of working with one state on autonomous driving laws. But there will also be federal regulations for autonomous vehicles given our interstate highway system. US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao must now pick up where the previous administration left off to get these rules and regulations in place as soon as possible.
But when I suggest to state officials that they will need to have self-driving car laws in place by 2020, they pretty much scoff at the suggestion. In fact, they’re not even sure the federal rules can be in place by then to meet the aggressive schedule of auto makers looking to roll out autonomous vehicles.
City officials are similarly skeptical. They’ll need to add cameras and sensors to things like traffic lights and street signs so autonomous cars can safely cruise their streets. But the first question these officials ask is “who will pay for that?”
I think we in tech get too caught up in the big picture of autonomous vehicles and don’t consider the complexity of regulating an emerging technology that could change our lives for the better if implemented properly but be seriously dangerous if done haphazardly.
Google, Uber, auto makers, and others need to create a serious tutorial for federal, state, and city regulators about the promise and limits of self-driving car technology. I know they are lobbying government officials now and providing some education, but from what I can tell, each company is only doing so with its own agenda in mind.
It would be in their best interest to pool their efforts (though this might be difficult given the Uber-Waymo lawsuit). If the folks behind this technology do not come together to help government officials navigate these completely new waters, the lack of consistent and concise regulations will keep self-driving cars from reaching their full potential any time soon. That’s good news for truck drivers, but bad news for innovation.