Washington DC has posted their proposed rulemaking on autonomous vehicles [DOC]. As I understand it, vehicle automation is technically legal everywhere in the US as long as there is a human driver in the front seat. (New York requires that one hand remain on the steering wheel, but I doubt that’s a show-stopper.) So whenever a state or district writes a law about vehicle automation, they’re just making it explicitly legal, and are actually restricting what automakers can do by requiring special licenses on on-board data recorders.
Which leads us into the gaping loophole in DC’s rule. Section 401.2 (b) requires that an autonomous vehicle have a black box data recorder that will store sensor data:
for at least thirty (30) seconds before a collision occurs between the autonomous vehicle and another vehicle, object or person while the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode [emphasis added]
Obviously any automaker would love to avoid recording these data, to any evidence that a crash were due to a failure in the sensors or some software or logic error.
And by the way the legislation is written, they the don’t have to report anything. All autonomous vehicles are equipped with sensors that detect other objects and calculate the time-to-collision to each of them. The automaker can program the vehicle to quickly hand control back to the human driver in the 0.1 seconds prior to a crash. Since data are only recorded for crashes where the vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, then no data need be recorded.
This could be avoided if there were some minimum warning time before a vehicle transfers control back to the driver. But there isn’t! It can throw back control with no notice whatsoever.
It should be noted that this almost the exact same legislation that was used in Nevada, which was rumored to have been written by Google. As evidence, the Nevada legislation required autonomous vehicles to be a current model year—great for Google if you’re retro-fitting existing vehicles, bad for automakers who are testing prototype vehicles.
But this is what happens when you let corporations write your legislation. Thankfully, there’s a public comment period before this thing becomes law in May. They even accept comments online!
Seems simple enough. Let’s fill it out!
Not sure if you can see it, but there’s a 500 character limit on all comments. Not words—characters. Yes, DC is certainly encouraging enlightened and thoughtful responses to a 1300 word (8207 character) piece of legislation by limiting comments to just over 3.57 Tweets. If you want to say more, you’ll need to write a letter. Oh, and thanks for telling me about the ridiculous character limit after I’d already typed it out.
If you wish to submit under the current scheme, here’s the briefest we could get it (161 characters):
Data recording requirement for crashes should apply regardless of whether software is driving, since machine can switch to human driver when a crash is imminent.
If you live in DC (or want to pretend that you do), send comments to David Glasser, General Counsel, D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, 95 M Street, S.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20024. Put it in the mail by the end of the month. Type it out with a typewriter. Personally deliver it via Amtrak. They definitely won’t read it.