And everything is becoming even stupider…
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took a step some are hailing as progress. The federal agency tasked with keeping us all safe while riding in cars has decided it’s best to no longer require traditional manual controls in vehicles equipped with automated driving systems. That’s right, no steering wheel, no pedals, just a computer doing everything without a way for the humans to quickly intervene. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called it “an important step, establishing robust safety standards for ADS-equipped vehicles.” I wish this were parody but instead these are our leaders.
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This issue of eliminating such backwards things as humans driving cars by relaxing federal safety standards has been debated for some time. Proponents of relaxing standards believe that by not allowing humans to intervene ever in the operation of a car, it will absolutely keep everyone safer. After all, it’s humans who cause all the accidents today, so cutting them out of the equation will fix everything – or so they argue.
“As the driver changes from a person to a machine in ADS-equipped vehicles, the need to keep the humans safe remains the same and must be integrated from the beginning,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator. “With this rule, we ensure that manufacturers put safety first.”
Does the above statement sound like a contradiction to you? If so, that’s because you’re not smart enough to understand what your betters, your leaders, are trying to do for you. The official press release from NHTSA condescendingly goes on to explain how before vehicle occupant safety standards were written for those boring, old cars you had to laboriously drive like a common serf. Well, with the new autonomous vehicles supposedly coming to a market near you, you’ll no longer have to do anything other than sit there and consume more government-approved media. We are all so blessed to be loved by our overlords.
NHTSA does help alleviate any concerns you might have about how safe fully-autonomous cars are without any way for a human occupant to quickly take over the operation using a steering wheel and pedals. The press release states: “The final rule clarifies that, despite their innovative designs, vehicles with ADS technology must continue to provide the same high levels of occupant protection as current passenger vehicles.” Don’t you feel safer already?
The agency does say it will monitor and oversee how fully autonomous cars are tested and deployed on public roads near you. Don’t worry, since the government is managing these devices which if they lost control could kill you and your whole family, you’re definitely safe. Since when has anyone in the federal government ever mismanaged anything? The answer is never.
One issue that hasn’t been tried in our legal system is who will be responsible when a car without any human controls causes a fatal accident. Those who just blindly trust technology and sneeringly devalue organic life often retort with some nonsense about how if there is a collision it would automatically be the fault of whomever is driving manually. However, anyone who’s used technology ever, which would be everyone these days, knows that electronic devices can glitch and have other faults, so that way of thinking is about as deep as a puddle.
Will the automaker be held accountable for such a crash? Will it be whomever wrote the code for the autonomous driving system? Will NHTSA step up and take accountability since it’s the one allowing vehicles without any controls humans can use to intervene if something goes wrong? I seriously doubt the latter, but it’s possible the vehicle owner could be held liable, or any of the other parties involved with the autonomously driven car. But we really don’t know the answer to that question but I think we'll be finding out sooner than later.
Images via Ford and GM