Since at least 1958 people have introduced driverless cars when Walt Disney Co. aired "Magic Highway USA". It's been almost five decades, and we're still talking about it.
Initially, the development of transportation was a product of necessity: as we moved from horse-drawn carriages to horse-drawn carriages, from steam engines to incineration, distance and speed improved with each development. Then came luxury like comfort and fuel efficiency.
Driverless cars could become more comfortable than traditional rides, but are they ever considered necessary? Depends on who you ask. At an event in Hong Kong earlier this year, Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Nissan Motor Co., said the commercial benefits of automated vehicles are enormous. Removing the driver reduces a company's cost of goods by up to 90 percent.
Ghosn also recognized a major obstacle to innovation: regulations and the elimination of any obstacles they may face before mass marketing. This is more than just a caveat. Legal issues ranging from traffic rules to liability in the event of an accident ultimately decide whether consumers – whether large corporations or individuals – decide whether they can live with driverless cars or if they can not live without them.
With autonomous vehicles decades-old traffic rules become ambiguous. Take, for example, the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic – a widely accepted international treaty to standardize regulation. An essential principle is the responsibility of the driver. Who is responsible for an accident without a fault? The carmaker? The manufacturer of the part that fails? The owner?
History shows that most traffic-related regulations were reactive. In 1965, it was Ralph Nader's book "Unsafe at Any Speed" that helped focus on the safety of the American automotive industry. Decades later, the diesel exhaust scandal of Volkswagen AG forced a rethinking in terms of the regulatory authority. The safety belts did not improve after a neurologist examined the rise of ER head injuries and basic safety belt design. This underpinned the legislation on safety standards.
Each time a bill is submitted for debate or a new law is passed, the transport industry is facing rising costs and has to adapt to changing regimes. For example, carmakers complained that the latest European fuel standards – the globally harmonized test procedure for light vehicles – would increase costs, and aggressively sold non-compliant models before the regulations came into force.
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Despite increased regulation, enforcers are still struggling with fast, reckless driving, basic safety accidents and accidents. Callbacks due to faulty parts continue – just in recent months, companies from Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co. to Hyundai Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. Recalls of millions of cars announced.
Semi-autonomous vehicles have already caused several casualties. (It is ironic that the tests with drivers continue for the safety of people who can take control of the machine in case of malfunction.
In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued guidelines for automated driving systems, and American states have passed laws. But they all differ in basic questions. In the meantime, China has developed its own rules and issued test licenses. According to the German laws, a driver must always be at the wheel.
In the meantime, the existing cybersecurity regulation is far from sufficient. China's NIO Inc. – which, as we wrote, marketed itself as an intelligent and connected vehicle could face such problems. That also affects Nissan. "We [carmakers] I can not guarantee that a car will not be hacked. It's impossible, "said Ghosn, saying manufacturers can" chop "painfully, but only the government can tell if a car is acceptable.
Nevertheless, companies are investing billions in these technologies.
"There are many very sensitive issues that need to be answered by the regulator before these cars hit the market," said Ghosn. With more than two-thirds of the world's population expected to live in urban areas over the next three decades, it is important to provide a framework if the driverless dream becomes reality.
Technology is pushing automakers into an unknown area. The industry and its regulators have much to do to prepare for known and unknown risks.
To contact the author of this story: Anjani Trivedi at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachel Rosenthal at email@example.com
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or the Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Anjani Trivedi is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion for industrial companies in Asia. Previously, she worked for the Wall Street Journal.
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