We’ve got another great year of light-and medium-duty sales in our rearview mirror as 2019 comes in with another 17 million plus units sold in the U.S. Everyone wants to buy trucks, vans, and SUVs. Regulators, legislators, and investors on the other hand would prefer that everyone buy an autonomous electric vehicle of some sort.
We’ve got a hodgepodge of lawmakers, bloggers, and visionaries that want to argue over every carbon atom to protect humanity but they all seem perfectly content to let a bunch of over-confident early adopters use our public roads to beta test new autonomous vehicle tech.
Meanwhile, the alphabet soup of agencies involved in the autonomous vehicle space all seem perfectly happy to abdicate all responsibility to anyone who wants to take it. The individual states don’t seem to have any sense of urgency to regulate this new (and potentially very dangerous) technology.
The federal government seems to be even less interested in protecting drivers and pedestrians. We’ve got an arms race going on between the tech companies, the OEMs, and some third party software providers to develop a usable autonomous platform but no one is in charge and no one is anywhere close to finding the holy grail of tech solutions to make this viable.
We’ve got some very interesting Level 2 and Level 3 products available today. We’ve also got some OEMs grossly overselling the capabilities of their own systems and lulling drivers into a false sense of security. It should be clear to anyone who sees the news that we’re not ready for Level 4 autonomy. We’re not even close.
There is so much work to do to smarten up the grid, improve vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and improve LIDAR or radar. At a minimum, let’s make sure these systems can identify a stalled vehicle or a parked fire engine on a freeway before we assume they are ready for prime time.
It’s time for Washington to step up and take a lead here. There aren’t many times I’ve thought the government was the answer to any problem we have, but this area seems to be begging for more intervention. I know I’ll feel a lot safer driving to work without having to look over at people sleeping or reading on their phone while their “autopilot” does all the work. I’ll feel a lot safer when those technologies are properly labeled and only available for usage in specific areas while they finish beta testing and working out the kinks.
Hopefully areas where I’m not for the next few years. Autonomous vehicles are going to be a great productivity boost for everyone and a great way to reduce accidents and save lives. But let’s get a framework in place and a legislative plan that allows us to develop those technologies without putting lives at risk in the short term.