New Paper: “Removing Roadblocks to Intelligent Vehicles and Driverless Cars”

by on September 17, 2014 · 0 comments

Driverless CarI’m pleased to announce that the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has just released my latest working paper, “Removing Roadblocks to Intelligent Vehicles and Driverless Cars.” This paper, which was co-authored with Ryan Hagemann, has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming edition of the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy.

In the paper, Hagemann and I explore the growing market for both “connected car” technologies as well as autonomous (or “driverless”) vehicle technology. We argue that intelligent-vehicle technology will produce significant benefits. Most notably, these technologies could save many lives. In 2012, 33,561 people were killed and 2,362,000 injured in traffic crashes, largely as a result of human error. Reducing the number of accidents by allowing intelligent vehicle technology to flourish would constitute a major public policy success. As Philip E. Ross noted recently at IEEE Spectrum, thanks to these technologies, “eventually it will be positively hard to use a car to hurt yourself or others.” The sooner that day arrives, the better.

These technologies could also have positive environmental impacts in the form of improved fuel economy, reduced traffic congestion, and reduced parking needs. They might also open up new mobility options for those who are unable to drive, for whatever reason. Any way you cut it, these are exciting technologies that promise to substantially improve human welfare.

Of course, as with any new disruptive technology, connected cars and driverless vehicles raise a variety of economic, social, and ethical concerns. Hagemann and I address some of the early policy concerns about these technologies (safety, security, privacy, liability, etc.) and we outline a variety of “bottom-up” solutions to ensure that innovation continues to flourish in this space. Importantly, we also argue that policymakers should keep in mind that individuals have gradually adapted to similar disruptions in the past and, therefore, patience and humility are needed when considering policy for intelligent-vehicle systems.

More generally, we note that the debate over intelligent vehicle technologies foreshadows many other tech policy debates to come in that it raises the larger question of what principle will guide the future of technological progress. Will “permissionless innovation” be our lodestar, allowing individuals to pursue a world of which they can, as of now, only dream? Or will “precautionary principle”-based reasoning prevail instead, driven by a desire to preserve the status quo?

To the maximum extent possible, we argue, policymakers should embrace permissionless innovation for intelligent vehicles. Creative minds–especially those most vociferously opposed to technological change–will always be able to concoct horrific-sounding scenarios about the future. Best-case scenarios will never develop if we are gripped by fear of the worst-case scenarios and try to preemptively plan for all of them with policy interventions.

This 55-page (double-spaced) working paper is available on the Mercatus Center website as well as SSRN, Research Gate, and Scribd. In coming weeks and months, we’ll be writing more about the themes addressed in this paper. Stay tuned, things are unfolding rapidly in this highly innovative arena.


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