In The Driverless Future, Are We Human Guinea Pigs? | 1.19.2018

Consumer Watchdog advocates on behalf of taxpayers and consumers in the public interest and works to “expose, confront, and change corporate and political injustice.” In a recent post, Consumer Watchdog argues that voluntary standards regarding the safety of self-driving cars don’t work.

Essentially, the self-driving car industry – made up of giants like Google and Tesla Motors (and, increasingly, major traditional automakers) – should conduct and publish self-assessments on the safety of their self-driving vehicles, but they aren’t really doing so.

That’s because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has made these self-assessments part of voluntary guidelines. In other words, those who are developing autonomous driving technology – and testing it on public roads – aren’t required to follow through on informing the public about when things go wrong.

Human guinea pigs

John Simpson with Consumer Watchdog says:

“[W]e are their human guinea pigs and there is no federal regulation to ensure our safety.”

In an earlier report published in June 2017, Consumer Watchdog argues that self-driving cars are a “threat to consumers.” It highlights the likely reality that our societal transition to a driverless transportation system won’t be perfect and won’t be free of a problem that has plagued us ever since we first strapped an engine on a set of wheels: crashes and injuries and associated fallout (like wrangling with insurance companies).

Driving utopia

It’s nice to imagine a driving utopia in which no one has to worry about getting seriously hurt or killed because of any of a range of negligent behaviors, from drunk driving to driving too fast, because the driverless future won’t involve fallible humans.

Whether or not we achieve that kind of utopia – and it’s worth shooting for – how we manage the transition from the system we’ve had ever since the Ford Model T to the new system we’re building with the Tesla Model S, will have a major impact on many people in the decades to come.

We could be wrong, but it will be some years before old-fashioned cars are outlawed, as Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk predicts. Until that day, it will be business as usual, and business generally requires at least some amount of reasonable regulation and oversight to ensure consumer safety.

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