It's all in the interest of “speeding self-driving cars to market.”
We have worried about how the regulators and the makers of self-driving cars would deal with pedestrians who might feel free to walk in front of self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles (AVs). Now we are beginning to get an inkling: The government is going to let the AV manufacturers scare the crap out of us.
The Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act of 2017 will allow automakers to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards and bar states from imposing driverless car rules.
The AV designers might make cars look like they are straight out of Mad Max, because they now can. In the interests of “speeding self-driving cars to market,” we will have speeding self-driving cars that are not well tested or regulated. Pedestrians will never set foot in front of a self-driving car because it might well just plough right through them.
Automakers would have to show that self-driving cars "function as intended and contain fail safe features," but the Transportation Department could not "condition deployment or testing of highly automated vehicles on review of safety assessment certifications.” So they might well have spikes and flamethrowers.
And if the state regulators don’t like it, they can whistle. GM, Tesla and Waymo have been lobbying Congress to stop rules like those in California that might limit deployment. So the legislation prohibits states from regulating “design, construction, mechanical systems, hardware and software systems, or communications systems.” The industry justifies this by saying, “It’s critical for the industry to be able to test and deploy across the country without a patchwork of rules that make it impossible to scale.”
The Consumers Union and the Consumer Watchdog are outraged.
"Pre-empting the states' ability to fill the void left by federal inaction leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish, with no safety protections at all," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director.
Humorously they are in a hurry to take away regulations that might save pedestrian lives because, according to Reuters,
The issue has taken new urgency because road deaths in the United States rose 7.7 percent in 2015 over the previous year to 35,200, the highest annual jump since 1966. Traffic deaths climbed nearly 8 percent in the first nine months of 2016, government data showed.
So now everyone will keep very far away from self driving cars which don't have be deferential to pedestrians and cyclists. They might not even know we are there. They could be actually be designed to intimidate; why not? Who is going to stop them? In his study on the future of AVs, Adam Millard-Ball explained why pedestrians yield to cars now:
Pedestrians know that drivers typically have no interest in running them down. So why not simply step out into the street and assert the right of way? In part, because they also know that there is a small probability that the driver is inattentive, intoxicated, or sociopathic, or that the vehicle may be unable to stop in time.
Now we know that self-driving cars might well be too dumb to see us, trained to be sociopathic and randomly hit us just to keep us in line, or that the vehicle may be unable to stop in time. Problem solved.