Tech Talk: Driverless Car Laws Slowly Implemented


In 1971, New York lawmakers passed a law that required drivers maintain at least one hand on the wheel when it is in motion. Roll forward forty five years and this law remains the same, despite some vehicles having the ability to steer themselves into a parking space (but requiring the driver to use the pedals to control speed) or offering a limited autopilot mode, such as Tesla. As one may imagine, this law is already preventing the testing of driverless cars. Just last week, Audi brought a test vehicle to Albany but were unable to proceed because of the one handed law. Legislators are pushing to change the 1971 law as it has not changed with the times or kept up with technological advances. Joseph Robach, the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman, explained: "We are just trying to have the law match up to the technology that people are using today and I think is only going to grow down the road." Joseph is not aware of any motorist ticketed for using an automated parking system and has introduced a change in the law that exempts motorists from the one handed law providing they are using "driving technology." The bill has been approved by the senate but is struggling to gain traction because some law-makers are concerned that the technology is unproven.

One difficulty that developers of self-driving cars have is in testing the cars on the public road, which can require a change in legislation simply to test. Senator Liz Krueger said this about driverless cars: "Show me how it is going to work at Second Ave. and 60th St. at rush hour and then I might support legislative change for driverless cars." And against this, the majority of collisions are caused by some element of human error – although this statistic is arguably meaningless because we do not have statistics showing the proportion of collisions caused by driving technology errors. However, in the words of Brad Stertz, the Government Affairs Director at Audi: "About 94% of the accidents in federal stats have some element of human error. The car with its 20 plus sensors all around it creates this sense of perception that humans don't have." He went on to explain that Audi is around two years from introducing a traffic jam autopilot but the more elaborate and sophisticated open road autopilot was some four years away. Automated systems also do not suffer from pride and emotions when it comes to driving.


According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New York is the only state with a law requiring one hand be on the steering wheel of a moving vehicle. In the last five years, six states plus the District of Columbia have changed laws to either enable the use, or at least allow the testing, of driverless or automated driving systems on the public roads. These laws have set down basic safety standards that must be adhered to and similar changes to the law are planned in a number of other states. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is believed to be preparing guidance for autonomous driving systems at some point over the summer months after ruling earlier in the year that the autonomous vehicle control unit may be considered "the driver" under federal law. This should be good news for the many companies developing driverless technology, such as Ford, Google and Uber. On the subject of laws, Liz Krueger went on to explain: "I really don't think New York needs to rush and change our laws because some auto company has a steering wheel problem. It needs serious review and I believe there has to be national standards set."

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Senior Staff Writer

I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.

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