Is the self-driving dream going to crash into a regulatory wall?

  • Date: 05/17/2024

Jack Stilgoe, a science and technology professor at University College London, says that Waymo and other self-driving technologies would struggle to pass a traditional human driving test—not necessarily because they can’t drive, but because the test is not designed for them. And Waymo’s callout to the millions of miles driven without incident is a highlight of that disparity. Cruise did something similar last year, publishing research in collaboration with two universities that suggested self-driving cars it operated had less than half the number of crashes per million miles driven than human rideshare drivers.

Stilgoe argues that such a claim manages to couch what may be a bigger issue. “With driving, it’s not the total number of miles that matters,” he says. “It’s what happens in the tiny minority of circumstances where you’re called upon to make a difficult decision. That’s where safety is defined.”

And that’s the point at which NHTSA appears to be probing companies developing these systems more intensely. For years, regulators have stood back and allowed the industry to develop autonomous driving tech with little oversight. But as incidents start to rise, both in absolute numbers and seriousness, regulators see the need to step in.
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