How not to regulate driverless cars

by on November 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm in Current Affairs, Law | Permalink

One issue is that the laws are requiring licensed drivers to sit in the driving seat, eliminating one of the main advantages of the technology.  Yet there are more problems.  From Marc Scribner:

Bizarrely, Cheh’s bill also requires that autonomous vehicles operate only on alternative fuels.

And:

Another flaw in Cheh’s bill is that it would impose a special tax on drivers of autonomous vehicles. Instead of paying fuel taxes, “Owners of autonomous vehicles shall pay a vehicle-miles travelled (VMT) fee of 1.875 cents per mile.” Administrative details aside, a VMT tax would require drivers to install a recording device to be periodically audited by the government. There may be good reasons to replace fuel taxes with VMT fees, but greatly restricting the use of a potentially revolutionary new technology by singling it out for a new tax system would be a mistake.

Cheh is on the D.C. City Council.

What would it look like if we were to rewrite all of the regulations for “drivered” cars today?

Dave Barnes November 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

“Cheh is on the D.C. City Council.” saves me from having the read the article.
And, “says it all”.

Dredd November 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

It is about time we got back to abiotic evolution, seeing as how abiotic evolution is more mature than biotic evolution is. The biological species who are prone to taxing litanies ought to evolve a bit more prior to participating in autonomous evolution.

Rahul November 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm

” Instead of paying fuel taxes”

How are they going to achieve that? Isn’t the fuel tax automatically added in at the gas station?

Nicoli November 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm

In DC, you need to get your car inspected every 2 years as part of the registration process. They could just check the odometer then and set up some sort of payment plan. It would be more complicated than a gas tax, that’s for sure, but it could more accurately tax drivers based on the wear and tear caused through driving.

The alternative fuels requirement is bizarre though…not a surprise though coming from Cheh.

Simone Simonini November 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm

“Bizarrely, Cheh’s bill also requires that autonomous vehicles operate only on alternative fuels.”

aaron November 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm

How many existing automobiles operate solely on alternative fuels?

Mark Thorson November 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm

It could have been worse. It could have required the vehicle itself to be made of 90% post-consumer waste.

doctorpat November 5, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Much like the D.C. City Council itself.

IVV November 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Why would they want to achieve that? Why tax here or there when you can tax here and there?

Then again, if driverless vehicles are mandated to use alternative fuels, then they won’t be paying the fuel tax at the pump, anyway.

Roy November 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Home Rule was a mistake, just redraw the district around federal and foreign embassy property and then hand the rest back to Maryland to deal with.

caveat. considering the amount of clueless tourists, both operating vehicles and as pedestrians wandering around inside the beltway, maybe DC is the very last place we want early adoption of driverless vehicles.

prognostication November 5, 2012 at 11:21 pm

This assumes that Maryland wants this (they don’t), that DC residents want this (they don’t), and that the citizens of DC deserve to have their democratic autonomy diluted because you don’t like the outcomes they’re getting. But other than that…

Boonton November 6, 2012 at 6:19 am

Maryland, of course, being a utopia of purely rational and efficient regulation in all things.

Actually considering how small DC is one would think owners of cars would rather pay taxes based on miles driven rather than gas burned.

RPLong November 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Not even a pipe-dream for me yet, and already they’re trying to regulate them. :(

Granite26 November 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Having a real driver behind the wheel (say, in a four year provision that automatically sunsets unless renewed) seems like a reasonable caveat for early adoption.

Nicoli November 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I think Tyler wants the option to be able to more easily read/eat/sleep while in the vehicle.

doctorpat November 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm

If designing a vehicle capable of driverless operation, it seems simple enough to redesign the driver’s position to allow the steering wheel to fold up and forward, the seat to move back and recline, and the center console to slide across to make a lap table.
And to make everything return to the standard position with the flick of a switch/tap of the brake pedal/error message from the computer.

Marc Roston November 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Today, workers’ comp insurance is mandated by the state, premiums are collected along the way based on payroll, then periodically adjusted against actual hours worked.

Similarly, regulators could mandate auto insurance be paid on a miles driven basis (this is option for some commercial vehicles now) and simply attach a surtax. This surtax could arbitrarily adjust the relative price between driver and driverless cars.

Additionally, clearly prices the total auto insurance more logically based on actual usage.

DocMerlin November 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm

When cars first came out, many jurisdictions passed ordinances requiring someone to walk in front of the car with a flag.

DocMerlin November 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Governments are always way, way behind the times. They are inherently regressive.

Phill November 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm

*Institutions* are inherently *conservative*.

That statement is as true for the Government as it is for Google, as it is for a twenty person startup.

Greg November 8, 2012 at 10:04 am

So the government could just as easily have designed a driverless car? Might as well say that institutions inherently include more than one person.

gogogogo November 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm

They used to require people to walk in front of cars waving flags. This one isn’t so crazy after all.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locomotive_Acts

Dan Weber November 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Ha! I knew Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows was historically inaccurate!

Dan Weber November 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I’m a big proponent of driverless cars, but requiring belted drivers for now is reasonable. We are still testing the technology.

Requiring alternative fuels is stupid.

VMT isn’t nuts, and I could see why you would do it with computer-controlled cars — they are already monitored out the wazoo. Still, why even bother unless you are trying to kill the industry, or expecting some kind of kickback to take it out?

Finch November 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm

> or expecting some kind of kickback to take it out?

+1

Always begin a negotiation with a few difficult demands that you don’t really care about. Then you can yield on those points in trade for points that you really do care about, like linkage payments. I.e., Google wants this, Google makes a linkage payment, like having the Mayor’s brother-in-law’s firm construct a tennis court at the local community center. Everybody wins, for small values of “everybody.”

Phil N November 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm

As much as I dislike 90% of libertarian views, I’d rather support them overall than deal with this crap.

NAMEREDACTED November 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Then support libertarians. We want you to not have to deal with this crap.

Scoop November 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm

If the cars we have today were just invented today — i.e. we’d been on horseback until now — there is zero chance that governments today would legalize anything like the current system whereby anyone with minimal training can drive. Zero. They’d say the dangers of the car outweighed the potential benefits and force us to stick with the horse.

Michael Crichton November 6, 2012 at 1:30 am

Alternatively, they’d happily embrace the car as a solution to Anthropogenic Horseshit Change.

Boonton November 6, 2012 at 6:23 am

Theory follows Practice…..an interesting line Jacques Barzun’s Dawn to Decadence. In other words people start doing things and then they start fleshing out the theoretical structure of those things (markets did exist before Adam Smith, for example). Likewise I’d say regulation follows practice. Right now driverless cars are a novelity that Google is playing with because it has so much money it doesn’ t really have to worry about how to actually cover their costs. It makes sense to wait and see what people actually start doing with driverless cars and then craft the regulation around that.

Michael G. Hurston November 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm

The opportunities that driverless cars represent are great, but why not also introduce additional coexisting technologies like the BiModal Glideway. More options are always better and how great would it be to have not just a car driving itself but a car driving itself a long a high speed efficient system that would allow more throughput and less congestion.

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