Over at Ars Technica, the final installment of my story on self-driving cars is up. This one focuses on the political and regulatory aspects of self-driving technologies. In particular, I offer three suggestions for the inevitable self-driving regulatory regime:
Three principles should govern the regulation of self-driving cars. First, it’s important to ensure that regulation be a complement to, rather than a substitute for, liability for accidents. Private firms will always have more information than government regulators about the safety of their products, and so the primary mechanism for ensuring car safety will always be manufacturers’ desires to avoid liability. Tort law gives carmakers an important, independent incentive to make safer cars. So while there may be good arguments for limiting liability, it would be a mistake to excuse regulated auto manufacturers from tort liability entirely.
Second, regulators should let industry take the lead in developing the basic software architecture of self-driving technologies. The last couple of decades have given us many examples of high-tech industries converging on well-designed technical standards. It should be sufficient for regulators to examine these standards after they have been developed, rather than trying to impose government-designed standards on the industry.
Finally, regulators need to bear in mind that too much regulation can be just as dangerous as too little. If self-driving cars will save lives, then delaying their introduction can kill just as many people as approving a dangerous car can. Therefore, it’s important that regulators focus narrowly on safety and that they don’t impose unrealistically high standards. If self-driving software can be shown to be at least as safe as the average human driver, it should be allowed on the road.
Meanwhile, Josephine Wolff at the Daily Princetonian was kind enough to quote me in an article about self-driving technologies. For the record, I was exaggerating a bit when I said “The only reasons there are pilots is because people feel safer with pilots.” Most aspects of flying can be done on autopilot, but I’m not sure we’re to the point where you could literally turn on the autopilot, close the cockpit door, and let the plane take you to the destination.
And if any TLF readers are in the Princeton area, I hope you’ll come to my talk on the future of self-driving technology, which will be a week from Thursday.
Finally, over at Techdirt, I’ve got the final installment of my series (1 2 3 4) on network neutrality regulation. I’ve got a new Cato Policy Analysis coming out later this week that will expand on many of the themes of those posts. Stay tuned.