Tech Talk: Progress In Self-Driving Cars Jumping Red Tape

Google Self Driving Car IO AH 9

Not too long ago, it was reported that self-driving cars, still a long ways off from commercial deployment, were in dire need of an entire legal framework just to allow their operation and sort out who would be liable in case of any damages or malfunctions. The framework would have to shield the people inside the cars unless they’re being operated manually, if possible, and would have to allow room for progress in the field of autonomous vehicles. As it turns out, that legal framework is not only happening, but it’s happening in a pretty unusual way. To be exact, self-driving cars seem to be plowing right through red tape on their path to legalization and mass deployment.

In some places, progress will be slow due to laws openly opposing fully self-driving cars. While many states lack laws concerning whether a car is allowed to drive itself, the fact that this would allow self-driving cars is down to a technicality, and is questionable at best. Deploying self-driving cars in such states without approval from all the right higher places could cause serious trouble, and rolling the cars out commercially for the common commuter to take advantage of would be nothing short of a disaster. Michigan seems to be the first state ready to change that. A few states mandate that a car must have a steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal. Michigan, on the other hand, falls into the “no relevant laws just yet” camp. A new bill in the Senate would do away with that status and open the door for vehicles that can operate “without any supervision by a human operator”.

Under this new proposed law, autonomous vehicles would be fully allowed for testing, commercial, and private use. The bill gives a clear definition for just what the law would consider a self-driving car, and lays out new laws for it. These new laws state that a self-driving car does not need a human operator, and that in the event of any sort of accident, the maker of the self-driving vehicle would be liable. While this law allows the kind of cars Google is envisioning, ones without human interface controls, it makes things a bit more risky for partners in the self-driving car field.


While some tech firms in the self-driving car field will manufacture their own vehicles, like Tesla, a number of them plan to rely on third parties for manufacturing, mostly consisting of the automakers that have been around for decades now, collectively referred to as “Detroit”. Under this new proposed law, automakers would essentially have to stake their own good name on the software made by somebody else. This explicit trust would require a deep, symbiotic partnership, in the vein of Ford’s deal with Alphabet. This will, of course, raise the safety standard a bit if it catches on; after all, automakers would not open themselves up to litigation and liability by trusting tech made by just any company.

Naturally, Michigan’s friendliness has not gone unnoticed, which has resulted in at least a few different car manufacturers testing autonomous vehicles there, such as Toyota and Ford. The rapid developments in the self-driving space have all but forced many places to simply accept the phenomenon. Baidu, for example, has launched a pilot shuttle service in China, and big players in the auto market like BMW and GM are planning to launch their own self-driving options inside of the next five years. The UK and France also have plans for self-driving vehicles to be on the road. The US may be the origin of the current self-driving car movement, with Google being present in the country, but they are far from the only ones embracing the future just as fast as it can come to pass.