States Ponder the Future of Self-Driving Cars

I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week looking at Autonomous Vehicle Legislation. It examines how states like Michigan are preparing for the advent of self-driving cars and what kinds of legislative issues state governments are going to need to think about down the road as the industry gets going over the next decade. I encourage you to check it out. But I also wanted to pass along a variety of other resources where you can read more on the subject.

  • The Associated Press this week has an update on the efforts of the California Department of Motor Vehicles to develop regulations dictating what companies must do to test autonomous vehicle technology on public roads. As I note in my brief, California’s rules could effectively become the new national standard for other states to follow. At an initial public hearing on the regulations, DMV officials reportedly considered such questions as: “How will the state know the cars are safe? Does a driver need to be behind the wheel? Can manufacturers mine data from onboard computers to make product pitches based on where the car goes or set insurance rates based on how it is driven? And: Do owners get docked points on their license if they send a car to park itself and it slams into another vehicle?”
  • The Atlantic Cities blog took a look recently at “How Driverless Cars Could Save the Government Lots and Lots of Money.” The post references a recent Brookings Institution paper entitled “Implementing Technology to Improve Public Highway Performance: A Leapfrog Technology from the Private Sector is Going to be Necessary.” Brookings economist Clifford Winston writes that: “Competition among automakers and other firms to develop the best technology is already underway. Google has logged nearly 500,000 miles testing its version of a driverless car; General Motors is working on a model with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University; Audi, BMW, Toyota, and Volvo have demonstrated their driverless models; and Nissan has claimed that it will offer a full line of driverless cars in the next decade. In short, some, admittedly optimistic, forecasts indicate that driverless cars could be a common sight on U.S. roads by 2025.” Winston also writes that: “Driverless vehicles are inevitable but the major obstacle to motorists and firms from adopting them as soon as possible is whether the government will take prudent and expeditious approaches to help resolve important questions about assigning liability in the event of an accident, the availability of insurance, and safety regulations.” Noting the caution exercised in NHTSA’s recommendations about driverless cars, Winston says “That may be appropriate at this stage in the vehicles’ development, but NHTSA should also be cautious about sharing FHWA’s legacy of not promoting timely innovation in highway travel.”
  • Susan Thurston of The Tampa Bay Times wrote recently that the bottom line with driverless cars is ultimately “Will people buy them?” “Obviously, you’ll never sell everyone on driverless vehicles,” she wrote. “But you might attract young people more interested in holding a smartphone than a steering wheel, especially if affordably priced. … Ultimately, the market will decide how quickly automated vehicles are embraced—and to what extent. It will take some time getting used to not seeing hands on the wheel.”
  • A study from IHS Automotive recently predicted that annual sales of self-driving cars worldwide will increase from 230,000 in 2025 to 11.8 million by 2035.
  • But David Cardinal at Extreme Tech wrote recently that it might never be necessary to actually own a self-driving car if, as expected, autonomous taxis and other types of shared transportation become more commonplace in the future.
  • The Guardian newspaper recently took a look at whether driverless cars are the future of transport in cities. In addition to the potential of autonomous vehicles to reduce deaths and injuries on the world’s roads, the article notes, self-driving cars could have “huge positive effects on the quality of life in our cities by redistributing our access to shared and sustainable transport.”
  • Researcher Antonio Loro examined what vehicle automation could mean for the future of transit in a recent post on the Human Transit blog.
  • Fast Company recently took a look at an autonomous concept car that could make morning commutes a lot more productive for carpooling co-workers.
  • Also from Fast Company: a list of “10 Autonomous Driving Companies to Watch.”
  • In a piece for Wired magazine last year, Terry Bennett of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and software company Autodesk wrote that “Google’s plan for autonomous cars doesn’t go far enough.” “What Google has started is a huge advance—and a healthy prod to the automotive industry,” he wrote. “But it can’t be just the car that is smart; the car also needs to play a role as a real-time data contributor to the overall transportation network, too. This is where the intelligence of an autonomous system really shines.” Bennett sees a need to “break down the infrastructure industry’s traditional silos; create ways for cars to collect, coordinate, and upload roadway info; designate transportation mega regions; and encourage more public-private joint ventures.”  
  • Our friends at the National Conference of State Legislatures took a look at self-driving cars and other transportation technology issues in an article last March entitled “Driving the Future.”