From the December 2016 issue
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just disgorged a 112-page paper prescribing some guidance for the care and feeding of automated vehicles. It’s a real page-turner.
President Obama praised the effort in a recent Op-Ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writing: “Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year. And right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives. Safer, more accessible driving. Less congested, less polluted roads. That’s what harnessing technology for good can look like.” Um, more cars on the road means less congestion? Sure, you’re the boss.
The NHTSA policy package has four parts: 1) Vehicle Performance Guidance, with its multipoint plan for how automated vehicles should be designed and how they should behave; 2) Model State Policy (the obligatory but perhaps necessary landgrab by the feds); 3) Current Regulatory Tools; and 4) New Tools and Authorities, i.e., more regulations, more land grabbing.
Bless those pointy-headed rulemakers in D.C., for they worked their little craniums sharp here. But I can alleviate all the grasping toward this slippery subject with one rule: Block drivers’ texts and emails. Deploy the so-called lockout technology Apple patented in 2014, and the automated car—and its tortured policy—becomes unnecessary. As well it should be. We do not concede that the ship of self-determination has sailed.
Because let’s be honest: The fevered rise of automated-car research is inextricably tied to the rise in distracted driving, both of which are enabled by high-speed data. And data is the operative word here. Instead of solving the distracted-driving problem by simply freezing driver cellphone activity within a moving car, the big data companies encouraged self-driving technology, sensing an opportunity to collect/deliver data from/to the occupants. The self-driving car is an inelegant solution to the problem of vehicle safety, but an elegant one to the issue of data mining. I think the automated car serves the data companies vastly better than it does the cause of safety. But then again, I watch Ancient Aliens.