That self-driving car bill has a loophole you could (literally) drive a truck through

Last week the House easily passed new legislation which would supposedly standardize regulation for self-driving cars and lift some safety regulations during development to speed the technology into production. This is something that a variety of industry advocates have been lobbying for and it’s of particular interest to Uber, Google and some of the larger auto manufacturers.


But now the Senate is considering the same bill and the world’s most deliberative body has a few questions. Chief among them seems to be, why is it just cars? What about trucks? Don’t self-driving trucks need the same sort of boost to get on the road, so to speak? (The Hill)

Senators are wrestling with whether to include trucks in a congressional effort to speed up the deployment of self-driving vehicles.

Trucking is one of the primary industries that is expected to be largely transformed by automated vehicles, with companies like Uber already jumping into the long-haul driverless trucking space.

But there has been widespread concern that the emerging technology could threaten millions of trucking jobs around the country.

“Trucks are different than automobiles. One of those differences deals with the employment,” Peters said at a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday. “It’s the top job in over 20 states. We need to think very carefully about the impact.”

There are some unions, abetted by Senators from states which are home to large trucking companies, who really, really don’t want to see self-driving trucks take off. That probably sounds counterintuitive to some of you, at least from the safety aspect, because trucks generally carry cargo while cars tend to carry human beings. You’d think that trucks would be at the head of the line. But all of those truck drivers could find themselves automated straight to the unemployment line if driverless trucks become a regular feature on the roads.


Frankly, that’s not a compelling argument to me. I’m not happy about the idea, but the fact is that automation puts people out of work and if we’re going to be embracing this as a nation then there probably won’t be any exceptions.

But that’s not the only concern being raised. Why are we rushing this technology, particularly at the expense of safety considerations? The industry still seems woefully behind the curve when it comes to the dangers of hacking. Business insider looked at the question this year and found that not only could a clever computer whiz mess with the cars from a great distance, nearly anyone with a laser pointer and fifty bucks could probably crash one.

Today’s self-driving cars rely on spinning sensors called lidar that can cost more than $10,000 each. But it took Jonathan Petit just $43 and a laser pointer to confuse and defeat them.

“Anybody can go online and get access to this, buy it really quickly, and just assemble it, and there you go, you have a device that can spoof lidar,” Petit, a cybersecurity expert, told Business Insider.

Problems could range from a single teenager wiping out cars on the local interstate to a hostile agent taking over fleets of them to cause mayhem. Are we really ready to rush this technology out onto the roads? We’ve recently seen that vehicle attacks are the new, favored method being used by terrorists around the world. Imagine making some big tractor-trailers vulnerable to external control as they roll toward a crowded urban destination.


Perhaps the manufacturers of these vehicles can slow it down a tad, allow the technology to develop at a natural pace and keep all current safety requirements in place. And that’s at a minimum. If anything, it sees like driverless cars will need even more safeguards, not less.

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Jazz Shaw 8:31 AM on December 09, 2023