Among the many rights that are reserved to the States of the United States is the right to license motor vehicles for operation on public roadways. Last week these rights came into conflict with Uber’s driverless vehicle testing program in San Francisco. In particular there are safety concerns for the citizenry of any state where driverless cars are being tested. Since “We the People” have agreed through legislative process that the safety of citizens on city and state streets is the responsibility of the State government, there needs to be some interaction between Uber and the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles and the City of San Francisco.
How this applies to driverless cars is, indeed, the crux of the problem. One would assume that in order for any motor vehicle to operate on the streets of San Francisco a vehicle license would be required. Consistent with that, there are 20 companies operating driverless vehicle test programs. Uber simply isn’t one of them. To make matters worse, Uber refuses to comply with what might be viewed as minimum requirements for any motor vehicle to operate on public roads.
The State of California is charged with the safety of citizens on public roads. Uber’s refusal to license the cars with the State seems a foolish gesture especially when the trials weren’t going very well making concerns about safety a real problem.
This might not be such a big deal, except for the fact that there have been between 2 and 5 cases of the Uber vehicles running red lights. Demonstrating with absolute certainty that the driverless vehicles are not any better today than human drivers. Which is supposed to be the point.
Development of the technology has spanned decades and it does not appear ready for wide deployment YET. That day may come, but it will require that advocates (car companies) can show that the software and control systems are able to operate more safely than human drivers. The goal is to reduce traffic accidents and loss of human life.
Which leads to the second problem; the other States right which bears directly on the technology is the licensing of drivers of motor vehicles. How are the states going to license the software and control systems of driverless cars? Obviously, only when vehicle manufacturers can demonstrate the safety of the product. Which in this case is no small feat.
Are controllers, or control systems, or control system software, or servers, or what exactly are we going to license to operate a motor vehicle?