You Should Have the Right to Inspect Google’s Robo-Car Tests

Driverless cars are set to improve, disrupt, and challenge the way we travel—someday. As of now, self-driving cars aren’t available for widespread use, as they aren’t sufficiently developed or safe to be commercially sold. It may take decades before they are able to infiltrate the market or gain enough public acceptance to be successful.

WIRED OPINION

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Seth Birnbaum is CEO of EverQuote, the largest online auto insurance marketplace in the US.


Even though autonomous vehicles haven’t gone mainstream, US government regulators published their automated vehicle policy in September, and many states are working to develop regulations for autonomous cars. This fall California approved legislation that allows testing of autonomous vehicles without a driver, steering wheel, brake pedals or an accelerator, as long as the cars do not travel above 35 mph. The state, home to driverless car efforts from Google, Tesla, Uber, and top automakers, was one of the first to support automated vehicles; legislators passed regulations governing driverless cars back in 2012. Eight other states have passed their own autonomous vehicle legislation, and six others are currently in process.

The push toward self-driving car adoption is a good thing, considering traffic deaths were up 10.4 percent for the first half of 2016, and autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce fatalities drastically. However, as each state develops its own policies, there is one piece that should remain uniform across them all: Self-driving tests should be publicized. While the federal policy helps us determine a roadmap for the future, we need a blueprint for today.

The first time Google’s automated vehicle caused a crash, there was an official record of it per California law. As a result, the public knew and Google had to address it publicly. In Pittsburgh, where Uber is testing self-driving cars, that is not the case. The company doesn’t have to report to the public about its self-driving car tests unless it chooses to do so. This has led to speculation about whether crashes have occurred and how the cars really perform; some Uber cars were recently seen traveling the wrong way on one-way streets. The state of Pennsylvania has given driverless cars the go-ahead, and as long as a driver is sitting behind the wheel, no other safety clearances are required. Unlike California, there is no permit process.