Rethinking the Automobile

As car makers continue to make a concerted effort to get their self-driving car technologies on the road, it doesn’t seem as if they have much to worry about by way of regulations. The government seems to be fully supportive of their effort to evolve driving technology—unless they completely do away with a vehicle’s steering wheel and brake pedal.

Unfortunately, this is the way Google has designed their autonomous cars.

Image Credit: Google/ Self Driving Car Project

In a report from the US Department of Transportation, it notes that a car without a steering wheel and brake pedal is not legal, as it fails to meet the safety standards. The report covers current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and it comes in response to the rising automation of traditional driving capabilities, such as parking, lane changing, collision avoidance, and so on.

These new regulations hope to accommodate the inevitable advancements in car technology, which will likely soon bring about vehicles driven just by computers.

Safety Standards

Based on the report, self-driving features are acceptable only if traditional car features are present in the vehicle, which doesn’t really bode well for some proposed innovations, such as smartphone control, replacing the windshield with video displays, or even reconfiguring interior seating.

In the same vein, the report also tries to study the impact of other radical changes proposed, such as switching from basic headlights to just illuminating the entire car, and it envisions how cars could communicate with other vehicles instead of using turn signals to communicate to other people.

Google has been the most vocal about pushing back against the regulations, saying that "Developing a car that can shoulder the entire burden of driving is crucial to safety,” as Chris Urmson, director of Alphabet’s self-driving car project, stated during a Congressional hearing. “We saw in our own testing that the human drivers can’t always be trusted to dip in and out of the task of driving when the car is encouraging them to sit back and relax.”

Despite the uncertainty of how the regulations regarding autonomous movement will play out, it seems that the automation of vehicles, realistically, will be a gradual process; but we will likely see roads filled with vehicles that are equipped with more and more autonomous features in the coming years.

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