What is the future of the driverless car?

Jun 02, 2016

Driverless Car.jpgThere have been a lot of technological advancements since the beginning of the 21st century. However, few are as incredible as the driverless car. An innovation once thought relegated to the realm of science fiction, autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming a reality. Multiple companies have made serious efforts within the field, with many more doing everything they can to catch up with the trend. 

That said, makers of driverless cars are facing a major obstacle that is preventing them from widespread deployment: outdated legislation. Many motorist laws were created years ago, when the idea of a robot driving your vehicle was laughable. Now, however, lawmakers are facing the challenge of having to update these rules while still keeping public safety in mind. 

Some old laws are getting in the way of advancement

The problem with these older laws is that they were developed with human drivers in mind. Perhaps the best example of this is a New York rule from 1971 that states the person operating the vehicle must keep one hand on the wheel at all times. This makes a lot of sense when thinking of human drivers. Even before the era of texting while driving, motorists often made poor decisions that forced legislators to create such a law. 

However, this regulation makes no sense when discussing driverless cars. These autonomous vehicles don't have to rely on hands to turn the vehicle, and an argument could be made that this means that their "hand" is always on the wheel. Regardless, many legislators within New York have recognized the absurdity of applying this law to driverless cars.

Joseph Robach, the Senate's Transportation Committee Chairman, is attempting to alter this bill to exclude "driving technology" from being covered by this law, according to New York Daily News contributor Glenn Blain. This would also apply to the parking assistance features that many newer cars have now. It may seem silly to have to point out that driverless cars don't have hands, but this is an important step in the development of this technology. 

But the tides are shifting

Clearly, lawmakers are seeing the writing on the wall and are making efforts to change current legislation. A giant leap forward in this area is the letter the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent to Google. This note, which was a response to Google's submission of its current driverless car design, is working to redefine how legal authorities view this technology, according to Reuters. 

"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants," said the letter. 

Although this doesn't technically remove all the legal challenges in the way of driverless cars, this letter shows that the opinion on these vehicles is rapidly shifting. The NHTSA is a well-respected body, and knowing that it classifies the vehicle itself as a driver will help other lawmakers move similar legislation along. On top of that, this will lessen the risk of investing in driverless technology, hopefully allowing other companies to dive into this trend. There's a long road ahead of the autonomous vehicle, but it's good to see that certain obstacles are finally being removed.