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All Reason.com articles with the "Automobiles" tag.



Published: Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2017 05:02:15 -0400

 



Regular Cars Didn't Need Federal Regulation; Neither Do Driverless Vehicles

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 14:15:00 -0400

A senator once asked the head of Google's self-driving vehicle program what sort of legislation was needed to help his industry. "What we have found in most places is that the best action is to take no action," he replied, adding that "in general the technology can be safely tested today on roads in many states." Last week a congressional committee ignored that advice and took action. In a bipartisan vote of 54–0, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has now forwarded the SELF DRIVE Act* for consideration by the full House of Representatives. (The Senate is working on similar legislation.) The bill's goal is to set up a national regulatory framework to encourage the development and deployment of autonomous passenger vehicles. But why does Congress need to get involved with autonomous vehicle development at all? After all, between 1900 and 1965 automakers managed to put tens of millions of non-self-driving vehicles on the road - some 90 million by the mid-1960s - with essentially no interference from the federal government. The federal government didn't really get into the automobile regulation business until Congress created the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1966. The immediate impetus behind the push to create the new federal automobile safety agency was the publication of Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed Dangers of the American Automobile, which claimed that GM's Corvair had a tendency to roll and therefore was a "one-car accident." In 1972, the very agency that Nader's alarmism conjured into existence issued a report finding that the "Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests...the handling and stability performance of the 1960–63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." In other words, federal automobile regulation was founded on activist misinformation. Prior to 1966, automobiles somehow got fitted with such safety equipment as windshield wipers, headlights, and turn signals without federal intervention. (In 1939, Buick became the first U.S. automaker to offer factory-installed flashing turn signals.) Industry standards were generally devised not by bureaucrats but by the Society of Automotive Engineers. On the postive side, the SELF DRIVE Act would preempt states from adopting their own rules for regulating "highly automated vehicles, automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems." A year ago, the California Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a draft regulation that would require all self-driving cars to have steering wheels, pedals, and a licensed, specially trained driver in the front seat. Fortunately, the agency recently backed off those requirements. Nevertheless, 20 states have passed legislation related to autonomous vehicles and 33 states have introduced yet more such legislation this year. But that's not all the bill would do. Among other things, it directs the secretary of transportation to issue within 24 months a final rule requiring autonomous vehicle manufacturers to submit safety assessment certifications; creates a Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Council to undertake information-gathering activities, develop technical advice, and present best practices or recommendations to the Transportation Secretary; requires manufacturers to devise and submit cybersecurity plans; and prohibits manufacturers from selling highly automated vehicles until they have developed privacy plans with respect to the collection, use, sharing, and storage of information about vehicle owners and occupants. Perplexingly, the bill also protects state automobile dealer franchise laws that ban direct sales of cars. Since most autonomous vehicles will likely be operated as robotaxis, dealer franchises are likely to go the way of livery stables. Curiously, the new bill requires that autonomous vehicles be as safe as conventional cars. Do folks in Congress really think that peo[...]



This Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants to Throw Folks in Prison for Having Secret Car Compartments

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 13:10:00 -0400

A hidden compartment in your car (or plane, or boat) could land you at least two years in prison in Massachusetts if a lawmaker gets his way. Blame it on the war on drugs and pressure from law enforcement lobbying. Stephan Hay, a Democrat state representative for Fitchburg, has introduced a bill that would criminalize operating a vehicle with a hidden compartment designed for the purpose of secretly transporting drugs and related contraband, equipment, currency, or weapons. The bill, H.1266, separately criminalizes the process of altering a vehicle with the intent of creating such hidden compartments. In each case the bill calls for a two-year mandatory minimum sentence, five years for subsequent offenses. The bill also allows police to seize the modified vehicle. The bill does not require that there actually be contraband in the hidden compartment, only that a person's "intent" is to use it to transport illicit goods. Then there's this clarification in the section authorizing forfeiture: Proof that a conveyance contains a hidden compartment as defined in this section shall be prima facie evidence that the conveyance was used intended for use in and for the business of unlawfully manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances. The bill defines a "hidden compartment" as any concealable storage space added to a vehicle after its purchase. The quoted section means that a defendant accused of violating this law is put in the position of having to prove a negative—that the compartment isn't intended to transport drugs. Ohio has a similar law on the books already, and we saw the dangerous consequences in 2013. Norman Gurley was stopped by state troopers, who noticed some wires in the vehicle he was driving and discovered the car had a secret compartment. They found absolutely no drugs but arrested him anyway and charged him with violating Ohio's law against secret compartments. Gurley's story quickly became national news, then faded as quickly as is it arrived. (Gurley's attorney, Myron Watson, did not return a call from Reason to find out what ultimately happened with the case. UPDATE: A reader directed me to the online case file and Gurley is set for a jury trial in December of this year, so it hasn't been resolved yet.) Now that his story is long forgotten, Massachusetts lawmakers are pushing their own version of a law that was criticized for violating due process, not to mention property rights. According to the State House News Service, Massachusetts state police officials are very much on board and are openly supporting the legislation. Their support should come as no surprise, given that the law will allow police to keep any vehicle they seize. According to the property-rights-defending experts at the Institute for Justice, Massachusetts has the worst civil asset forfeiture laws in the country. Law enforcement officials need only reach the threshold of probable cause (the same threshold used to justify a search warrant) that somebody's property or money is connected to a crime in order to seize it. The state doesn't have to prove a citizen's guilt to keep the property; the citizen must prove his innocence to get it back. And under Massachusetts law, police get to keep 100 percent of what they seize, a huge financial incentive to claim that anyone they pull over and search is connected to the drug trade—at least if he has any possessions of value. Police in Massachusetts already rake in millions of dollars a year from forfeitures. This bill would compound the problem. And it could send people to prison for drug crimes even if no one finds so much as a single joint or fentanyl tablet in their possession.[...]



Let Driverless Car Innovators—Not Bureaucrats—Work Out Security, Privacy Issues

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 08:30:00 -0400

When most people think about driverless car policies, they tend to focus on philosophical life-or-death scenarios. This isn't surprising: The question of how autonomous vehicles should behave when faced with the unfortunate decision between harming a passenger and harming a pedestrian is an eye-catching one indeed. But many of the policy concerns surrounding robot cars are far more prosaic. How much data will connected cars collect, and how will this be stored? Will the data be secure? How secure? How will software be maintained and improved? Will the code be viewable by outsiders? And just who should oversee the whole process? At the end of the month, regulators at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will hold a policy workshop to discuss just these issues. On June 28, policy experts, academics, industry representatives, and the general public are invited to take part in a conversation on "the consumer privacy and security issues that automated and connected vehicles" may pose. Rather than worrying about the typical questions of physical safety and accident liabilities involving autonomous cars, this workshop will focus mostly on the cybersecurity and data integrity of autonomous car software. There is considerable disagreement in the policy space about how to proceed. At the core of the debate is the question of how seamlessly car companies can adapt to the new pressures of maintaining secure software. Car manufacturers have had decades of experience testing their vehicles to minimize physical safety risks as much as possible. But as cars become more automated, these companies will have to act more like software firms. These days, GM and Ford and Chrysler need to be as comfortable with beta testing and encryption as they are with test tracks and crash dummies. Critics believe that car companies are simply not up to snuff on security. They do not think that auto manufacturers will be able to provide secure and transparent autonomous car software without some kind of government mandate or pre-market approval process. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier is a leading advocate of this position. In a recent article for the New York Times, Schneier argues that there is no market incentive for car manufacturers and other businesses involved in the "Internet of Things" (IOT) gold rush to care about good security. He thinks the government should mandate that companies integrate certain software features by default, and advocates that software developers be held liable for vulnerabilities in the code. (As a point of fact, the FTC already investigates IOT firms for "unfair and deceptive practices" with insecure products, but Schneier and others want to significantly expand the liability burden for software businesses.) There are legislative efforts underway as well. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has made connected car security into somewhat of a congressional bugaboo for the past few years. He first produced a sensationalist report on the topic in 2015, which was heavy on hysterics but notably light on any real examples of the hacking threats to connected cars. Markey then teamed up with Senator Richard Blumenthal to introduce the "SPY Car Act" later that year. The bill would vaguely require companies to equip "all entry points to the electronic systems" of cars sold in the US with "reasonable measures to protect against hacking attacks" while requiring sellers to append a "cyber dashboard" with security features on each car. The bill failed, having generated expected opposition from auto manufacturers for its "cumbersome and static" approach, but Markey released another version of the bill this year. Yet these kinds of arguments are little different than the typical anti-market rhetoric used to justify all kinds of backwards regulations. They seem to believe that businesses can consistently provide sub-par data and software security and stay in business forever. Furthermore, they believe that government has the knowledg[...]



Trump Administration to Review Obama-Era CAFE Standards

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 16:15:00 -0400

On its way out the door in January, the Obama administration rushed to lock in the Environmental Protection Agency's Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards at 54.5 miles per gallon for light duty vehicles by 2025. The final determination also calculated that the higher CAFE standards would save American drivers nearly $100 billion in fuel costs by 2025. Today, President Donald Trump told a cheering audience of auto industry workers in Michigan: "We're going to work on the CAFE standards so you can make cars in America again. We're going to help companies so they are going to help you. We're going to be the car capital of the world again." New EPA administrator Scott Pruitt also announced today that the agency in coordination with the Department of Transportation's (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will reconsider the final determination and decide by April 1, 2018 whether the Obama-era CAFE standards will stand. The reconsideration of the stringent CAFE standards is taking place at the request of American automakers who argue in a February letter to Pruitt that they are unachievable using currently foreseen automotive technologies. In its letter the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers asserts that the Obama adminstration's EPA final determination is "riddled with indefensible assumptions" regarding available technologies, consumer acceptance, technology affordability, and industry employment effects. The Alliance is not asking for a different final determination "at this time." The group just wants the agency resume the evaluation "consistent with the timetable embodied in the EPA's own regulations." The environmental lobby is not happy. "Americans don't want to return to days of more pollution and higher fuel costs. They want a clean, efficient economy. Rolling back vehicle fuel standards would make Americans spend more at the pump, leaving them with less for their families and basic needs," declared Kristin Igusky, Climate Program Associate at the World Resources Institute in a statement. "In compelling a review of these standards, the administration is creating more uncertainty and blocking progress toward cleaner, more efficient vehicles for America." Whatever else they do, CAFE standards especially hurt the poor. As I reported in January: In a new study contrasting the effects on consumers of energy efficiency standards versus energy taxes, the Georgetown economist Arik Levinson notes that both energy efficiency standards and energy taxes function as a regressive tax, taking a larger percentage of a lower income and a smaller percentage of a higher income. His analysis aims to find out which is more regressive—in other words, which is worse for poor Americans. Levinson cites earlier research that estimates a gasoline tax would cost 71 percent less than the comparable CAFE policy per gallon of fuel saved. Meanwhile, a 2013 study calculates that CAFE standards cost more than six times as much as a corresponding gas tax for the same reduction in fuel consumption. In other words, if policy makers want people to use less fuel and drive more fuel-efficient cars, taxing gasoline is a much cheaper way to achieve that goal than mandating automobile fuel efficiency. Levinson concludes that "efficiency standards are, ironically, inefficient." I have long been a critic of CAFE standards. Back in 2009, for example, I concluded that Obama's proposed CAFE standards operate as an inefficient stealth tax on driving. It's inefficient because drivers pay more, car companies make less money, and state and federal governments don't get any extra revenues. If activists and politicians want Americans to drive more fuel-efficient cars, the simple and honest thing to do would be to substantially raise gasoline taxes concluded a 2002 National Academy of Sciences report. Ultimately, I argued, setting CAFE standards is just a way for cowardly politicians to avoid telling their fellow citizens that they should pay more for the[...]



General Motors Wants to Outlaw Silicon Valley Self-Driving Car Competition

Fri, 24 Feb 2017 15:35:00 -0500

(image) In December, the Michigan legislature adopted the SAVE Act pretending that its goal was to help get self-driving vehicles on Michigan's roads as soon as possible. Fortune magazine actually declared that the state had passed the "most permissive self-driving car laws in the country." In some respects, maybe yes, but the Act contains a telling bit of crony capitalism: "A motor vehicle manufacturer may participate in a SAVE project if it self-certifies to all of the following: (a) That it is a motor vehicle manufacturer. A person that is not a motor vehicle manufacturer may not participate in a SAVE project."

In other words, it is a naked attempt to protect legacy vehicle manufacturers, like Ford, GM, Chrysler-Fiat, etc., from competition with software companies like Google and ride-hailing services like Uber. In the case of Michigan, Waymo, the self-driving division of Alphabet (Google), managed to get itself grandfathered after pointing out that its self-driving vehicles had vastly more actual road testing experience than any of the automakers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, GM is now getting pet legislators to introduce the SAVE ACT in other states. The Journal reports that Illinois state Rep. Michael Zalewski has introduced a bill that, like Michigan's, would limit access for testing self-driving vehicles on that state's roads to companies that make their own vehicles.

That means GM would be eligible, but not tech companies like Uber Technologies Inc. that are developing their own self-driving cars and don't make their own vehicles.

"General Motors approached me about it and suggested that they had success last year in Michigan [with a similar bill], and they consider Chicago a big market for them," Mr. Zalewski, a Democrat, said in an interview. "We went from there." ...

After falling behind in self-driving cars, GM has unleashed its powerful lobbying team to cultivate relationships with statehouses. The largest U.S. vehicle maker by sales has a long history of backing legislation to preserve its interests, including a bill in Indiana last year that would stop electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc. from operating its own stores there.

This is outrageous.

In my July 2016 article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?," I reported that when a U.S. Senate committee asked then-head of Google's self-driving vehicle program Chris Urmson what additional legislation was needed, he replied: "What we have found in most places is that the best action is to take no action. And that in general the technology can be safely tested today on roads in many states."

In other words, stay away.

The scurrilous motivations behind the SAVE Act might be best summarized as "I'm from the government and I'm here to help my cronies by hurting their competitors."

For more background, see my March 2017 article, "Bad News: The Government Wants to 'Help' Driverless Car Companies."




Brickbat: Don't Touch That!

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Two Washington state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make it illegal even to touch your phone while driving. The bill would also more than double the fine for distracted driving to $350 from $124.




Calif. Legislator Wants to Expand Teen Driving Curfews to Some Adults

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 12:15:00 -0500

One California state legislator wants to expand the state's apparent desire to treat grown adults like teens by restricting their driving rights. California last year passed legislation increasing the legal age for residents to purchase cigarettes to 21. Now Democratic Assemblyman Jim Frazier of Oakley has introduced legislation to treat adult drivers like they're still teenagers until they reach 21. Frazier has introduced AB 63, which expands California's provisional driver's licensing program to all drivers under 21. What does that mean? We'll let Frazier's bill speak for itself: Existing law, the Brady-Jared Teen Driver Safety Act of 1997, establishes a provisional licensing program and generally requires that a driver's license issued to a person at least 16 years of age but under 18 years of age be issued pursuant to that provisional licensing program. During the first 12 months after issuance of a provisional license, existing law prohibits the licensee from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. and transporting passengers who are under 20 years of age, unless he or she is accompanied and supervised by a licensed driver, as specified, or a licensed or certified driving instructor. Existing law provides limited exceptions to these restrictions under which a licensee is authorized to drive under specified circumstances, including a school or school-authorized activity or an employment necessity, and requires the licensee to keep certain supporting documentation in his or her possession. A violation of these provisions is punishable as an infraction. This bill would expand the scope of the provisional licensing program by extending the applicable age range for the program to 16 to under 21 years of age. By expanding the scope of the provisional licensing program, the violation of which constitutes an infraction, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would authorize a licensee who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age to keep in his or her possession a copy of his or her class schedule or work schedule as documentation to satisfy the exceptions for a school or school-authorized activity and employment necessity, respectively, and would provide that a signed statement by a parent or legal guardian is not required if reasonable transportation facilities are inadequate and the operation of a vehicle by a licensee who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age is necessary to transport the licensee or the licensee's immediate family member. The bill would make other technical and conforming changes. The bill would also include specified findings and declarations. The law would put a statewide curfew in place for adult drivers between the ages of 18 to 21 for one year, just like the state has for teens. Adults who fit in this category will have to carry around paperwork to show government officials (police officers) that they have the authority to be driving "after hours" for reasons that the state permits. It's a grotesque violation of the right for adults to travel freely, all for the name of public safety, of course. Frazier cites all sorts of demographic data about young people behind the wheel. From the East Bay Times: Frazier cited research from the Governors Highway Safety Association that found that over the last 10 years improvement in fatal crash rates were better among drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 than among their 18- to 20-year-old counterparts. Additionally, the GHSA found that older teens were twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash between midnight and 6 a.m. and attributed this to provisional licensing programs. "Some folks say it is very restrictive to teens and folks who don't have experience driving," Frazier said. "The most restrictive part is the part where they end up in a casket." It might not surprise readers to learn that Frazier tragically lost a daughter in a car crash in 2000. Whenever we see a propos[...]



Why New Cellphone Restrictions Won't Have a Noticeable Impact on Crashes

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 08:30:00 -0500

In 2015, according to numbers released this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "distraction-affected crashes" killed 3,477 people in the United States. A California law that took effect on Sunday, imposing further restrictions of drivers' use of cellphones, is supposed to do something about that problem, but there is little reason to think it will. NHTSA's numbers indicate that cellphones are implicated in just 13 percent of traffic fatalities involving distracted drivers—which in turn account for 10 percent of traffic fatalities, meaning that cellphones play a role in something like 1.3 percent of deaths caused by car crashes. The vast majority of distraction-related crashes involve less commonly discussed (and less vociferously condemned) activities such as "eating and drinking," "talking to passengers," "grooming," "reading, including maps," and "adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player." If it does not make sense for states to pass laws specifically prohibiting each of these distractions, why single out cellphones? Another problem with California's approach is that it seeks to stop drivers from holding cellphones while still allowing hands-free use. But according to NHTSA, "the research indicates that the cognitive distraction of having a hands-free phone conversation causes drivers to miss the important visual and audio cues that would ordinarily help you avoid a crash." Or as Steve Finnegan, government affairs manager at the Automobile Club of Southern California, tells The New York Times, "It's not what your hands are doing; it's what your brain is doing." All 14 states that restrict drivers' cellphone use nevertheless say hands-free calls are OK, and no state prohibits conversations with passengers, which are at least as distracting. Cellphone restrictions have not had a measurable impact on traffic fatalities. David Kidd, a senior researcher at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, tells the Times "there is evidence that if you do pass a law and have strong enforcement, it can change behavior." But he adds that "we don't see a reduction in crashes that is consistent with that change in behavior." That's not surprising, since these laws deal with a highly visible, relatively novel factor that figures in 1 percent of car accidents, imposing restrictions that even theoretically can make a difference in only a fraction of that 1 percent—the accidents where holding a phone plays a crucial role. The Times notes that Kidd's organization "is more focused on encouraging automakers to adapt crash avoidance technologies such as forward collision warning and automatic emergency breaking, both technological measures that are intended to help prevent front-to-rear crashes." As Kidd explains, these safety features "are not going to reduce driver distraction, but they will help cope with some of the consequences that come with drivers not paying attention." The difference in focus between legislators and insurers can be explained by a difference in motives. While insurers have a financial incentive to reduce their payouts by reducing crashes, legislators have a political incentive to seem like they are addressing the problem, whether or not the policies they support actually have an impact.[...]



Calif. to Treat Smart Phones in Cars as Just Slightly Less Dangerous than Loaded Guns

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 11:45:00 -0500

The end of the year brings the whole host of reminders about the new laws that state legislatures have passed through the last term and are finally coming into effect. California is fertile ground for legislative meddling in lives, and the start of every year brings stories about the hundreds of new rules coming into play. January will see new reasons for police to extract money from citizens—I mean, "protect public safety." A new state law makes it illegal to even hold your smart phone while you're driving. The Sacramento Bee (which opens its piece by simply asserting without evidence that "distracted driving has reached dangerous levels") explains AB 1785: The law is designed to stop people from holding their phones for a variety of uses that have become popular in recent years, including checking and posting on Facebook, using Snapchat, scrolling through Spotify or Pandora playlists, typing addresses into the phone's mapping system, or making videos and taking photos. A California Office of Traffic Safety study this year determined that 1 out of 8 drivers on the road is paying as much attention to his or her smartphone as to the road. State road safety officials estimate that some form of distracted driving is a factor in 80 percent of crashes. That's prompted numerous education and enforcement efforts in California aimed at reducing distracted driving. Note the subtle shifting of facts in the second paragraph. More drivers are paying attention to their smartphones, causing distractions. Distractions factor into 80 percent of all crashes. But there is a huge failure there to actually connect smartphone use to an increase in crashes. Crash stats had been going down in recent years but the trend had recently started reversing. A very, very relevant contributor to the shift is that more people are driving more miles as the economy has recovered. That's naturally, statistically going to lead to more collisions. Ed Krayewski looked over the fatal collision stats back in September and found the evidence that phones are making driving more dangerous underwhelming. But politicians see little downside or negative consequence in passing laws that make people feel safer even if they don't, so here we are. The law does allow use of smartphones with voice activation and to touch the phone simply for the purpose of activating or deactivating an app, but the phone must also be placed in a mounted spot inside the car. So anybody sitting there with the smartphone in their lap while having their GPS recite instructions to them is going to be breaking the law, even if they aren't holding it up to their ear or being "distracted" by it. California drivers could face additional fines if they get pulled over even when they aren't using a phone in a way that distracts them simply because it doesn't comply with the very restrictive rules on how the state says you should attach the phone to your car: "either a 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side, or a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield to the driver's left." The fine is $20 for the first offense and $50 for each additional offense. If only there weren't some sort of way for police to evaluate and cite people for behavior behind the wheel that is dangerous to others that is not attached to an absurdly overbroad ban on a piece of technology, blaming it for the behavior and not the driver. Maybe something about those who engage in reckless driving habits without regard to others? Something like that? Read more about the new law here and wonder if it'll still apply when we're all using self-driving cars.[...]



Ford Gets It Right on Self-Driving Cars

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 11:05:00 -0500

(image) Ford Motors has just unveiled the latest iteration of its self-driving automobile, a modified Ford Fusion that processes a terabyte of information per hour from lidar, radar, optical sensors, high resolution 3D maps, GPS and more to navigate itself. The new vehicles still require someone to sit in the driver's seat to monitor the car and take over if it gets confused. However, Ford is on the right path; the company wants to build a fully autonomous car available for ride-hailing and ride-sharing services by 2021. That car will dispense with fripperies like steering wheels and pedals.

The key is that Ford is aiming for full autonomy, not half-assed autonomy that requires a driver to take over whenever an alarm bell sounds. Chris Brewer, Chief Program Engineer, Ford Autonomous Vehicle Development explains:

Building a car that will not be controlled by a human driver is completely different from designing a conventional vehicle, and this raises a whole new set of questions for our autonomous vehicle engineering team: How do you replicate everything a human driver does behind the wheel in a vehicle that drives itself? ...

Just as we have confidence in ourselves and other drivers, we need to develop a robust virtual driver system with the same level of dependability to make decisions, and then carry them out appropriately on the go. We're doing that at Ford by taking a unique approach to help make our autonomous cars see, sense, think and perform like a human — in fact, better, in some cases.

With regard to performing better than human drivers, automated vehicles will have access to lots more information. For example, the Ford Fusion cars' lidars have a 360 degree sensing range the length of two football fields. Virtual drivers could use this superior information and their finer control over the car's steering, brakes, throttle, etc. to pull off evasive manuevers in dangerous situations that a normal human could not achieve.

For more skeptical view of when fully autonomous vehicles will become available, see Reason Foundation Director of Transporation Policy Bob Poole's Reason TV interview below. Among other things, Poole says that his skepticism about the speedy deployment of self-driving cars "is coming from researchers, serious researchers, not reporters writing in the popular press, at UC Berkeley, at Carnegie-Mellon, and at MIT...." Ouch.

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vChzr9g_J18" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

For a reporter's view, see my article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?" Bob, want to place a friendly bet?




Why It's a Good Thing That Driverless Cars and Trucks Are Going To Take Decades...

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 10:30:00 -0500

Yesterday, we posted a video conversation with me and Reason Foundation founder Bob Poole talking about the promises and timeline for fully automated cars and trucks to take over America's highways and city streets. Watch that here on Reason's YouTube channel. Poole's main point isn't that driverless cars and trucks aren't a good thing, but most of the hype surrounding them is just that: hype. It's one thing to create trucks, say, that can drive the interstates in special lanes over long distances. That's a tough challenge, but one that can be handled relatively easily (big emphasis on relatively). But at some point, those trucks need to break bulk and their contents need to get repacked into smaller delivery trucks. Safely navigating city or suburban streets is a massively more difficult enterprise and it's one that needs to be taken into account when projecting the costs and benefits of a driverless economy. Similarly, argues Poole, who knows transportation policy better than most parents know their own kids, the death of owner-operated cars is probably wildly overexaggerated. You can't take desultory ownership trends from years of the Great Recession and extrapolate forward. Yes, we use our cars for only a few hours a day at best, so the dream of just having on-demand transportation show up when we summon it (Uber! Lyft! Etc.!) is attractive, but we also pay for the ability to get into our mobiles whenever we want. The price is set by our peak demand, not our average demand. None of this is to say that a driverless world won't happen or that it won't be a good thing. As much as I love driving, if I never had to do it again—or pay for a car repair directly out of pocket—I'd be a happy camper. It's just that the overhyped timeline for the full transition is 30 or more years away, assuming everything goes smoothly. The good news with that? All the equally overhyped fears about 3.5 million truckers being thrown out of work overnight is equally nonsense. Like almost all major changes driven by technology and economics, creative destruction doesn't actually happen in a quick, unpredictable fashion. Indeed, to the extent that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump kept harping during the 2016 campaign on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, you'd think factory work disappeared overnight. In absolute numbers, manufacturing jobs as a percentage of employment peaked in the late 1970s. That's 30-plus years ago, so stories about towns being decimated by overnight closures are, for lack of a better word, bullshit. I lived in Buffalo, New York in the early 1990s and people there were acting as if aliens had descended and stripped out all factory and heavy-industry jobs in a 24-hour period. In fact, the city's population (and economy) had peaked in 1950 and industrial employment had been bleeding out for decades. The idea that places get turned into a wasteland overnight is the worst sort of nostalgia that helps no one but keeps whole areas frozen in time. Manufacturing as a percentage of the U.S. workforce peaked in 1943—during World War II!—at about 38 percent. Since then, there's been a long, slow, totally predictable decline in the number of Americans working in factories that everyone could see coming and continuing. The point of that history lesson? Occupational change, like technological change, takes more time and gives more room to adapt than we normally think. Yes, travel agents have in many ways been superseded by online services. The typing pool is never going to make a comeback. Traditional taxi drivers are almost certainly sunsetting. And long-haul trucking and car-based delivery men and women might not be needed in 2050. But the upside of fully automated vehicles taking longer than Elon Musk predicts is that we'll have more [...]



Sorry, Elon Musk! Driverless Cars Will Take Longer Than You Think.

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 10:00:00 -0500

If you listen to Elon Musk, driverless cars are a technology that are just around the corner.

"I really consider autonomous driving a solved problem," Musk said in June 2016 in The Guardian. "I think we are probably less than two years away."

But, Bob Poole, Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy at Reason Foundation is skeptical of Musk's timeline. "Skepticism is coming partly from researchers [...] at UC Berkeley, at Carnegie Mellon, at MIT who say this is a much harder problem than a lot of people, including Elon Musk, make it out to be."

Poole suggested to Reason TV's Editor in Chief, Nick Gillespie, that it will take a few decades at least before engineers are able to figure out the unexpected surprises of driving on city streets, not to mention the high cost of implementation into a market of cars that are not driverless. Further, Poole points out that once driverless options are available, they may completely throw a wrench in city transportation projects that are projected to take 30 to 40 years to build.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Editing by Paul Detrick. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Jim Epstein.

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Trump Regulatory Rollback: Auto Fuel Efficiency Standards

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:00:00 -0500

(image) The Obama Administration imposed fuel efficiency standards on the automobile industry requiring them to increase fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Now carmakers are reportedly asking the incoming Trump administration for a "a pathway forward" on setting final fuel efficiency standards through 2025 and calling on the next administration to "harmonize and adjust" the rules.

Predictably, any hint that regulations might be rolled back brings forth howls of protest from activists. And so it has. Public Citizen, the self-styled "people's voice in the nation's capital" issued a press release decrying the notion that corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards might be loosened:

In 2009, in the aftermath of financial losses that stemmed from poor sales of inefficient fleets and higher oil prices, American taxpayers rescued the auto industry after it nearly went out of business. Now, this same industry sent a memo to Trump's lobbyist-staffed transition team asking for permission to ease off improved fuel economy standards.

Let's not forget that the reason the auto industry had to be bailed out was because automakers built a fleet of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles that they could no longer sell. More fuel efficient cars would have saved them and taxpayers the trouble, but now it appears that the auto industry has learned nothing from its recent mistakes.

Federal regulators raised fuel efficiency standards because they save consumers money and are an important part of our effort to combat climate change.

Back in 2009, I criticized Obama's proposed CAFE standards as an inefficient stealth tax on driving. It's inefficient because drivers pay more, car companies make less money, and state and federal governments don't get any extra revenues. If activists and politicians want Americans to drive more fuel-efficient cars, the simple and honest thing to do would be to substantially raise gasoline taxes concluded a 2002 National Academy of Sciences report. Ultimately, I argued, setting CAFE standards is just a way for cowardly politicians to avoid telling their fellow citizens that they should pay more for the privilege of driving.




Brickbat: Phantom Tickets

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Last year, Joseph Youngstein's 2004 Dodge Durango was stolen and totaled. He turned the plates in to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles and got a receipt saying they'd been destroyed. So he wonders why he keeps getting tickets issued to the old license plates. He is also angry that his new vehicle, a Chevy Equinox with completely different plates, got booted because of all the tickets on the old plates.




Google Self-Driving Car in Crash: Like Always, Humans at Fault

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 12:03:00 -0400

(image) A van t-boned a Google self-driving car as its driver ran a red light. The car was pretty well wrecked but apparently no one in either vehicle was greatly harmed. In a statement to 9to5Google, the company noted:

A Google vehicle was traveling northbound on Phyllis Ave. in Mountain View when a car heading westbound on El Camino Real ran a red light and collided with the right side of our vehicle. Our light was green for at least six seconds before our car entered the intersection. Thousands of crashes happen everyday on U.S. roads, and red-light running is the leading cause of urban crashes in the U.S. Human error plays a role in 94% of these crashes, which is why we're developing fully self-driving technology to make our roads safer.

Red-light running human drivers have hit Google vehicles before. For example, Google's latest montly report on its self-driving car project noted:

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In that same report, the other four accidents involved human drivers in other cars rear-ending Google vehicles.