It’s likely that in the 2019 legislative session Oregon lawmakers will debate what to do about driverless cars.
Should Oregon allow their sale to the public? Should Oregon allow testing?
Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, is drafting a bill for the 2019 session that would allow limited testing. She’s right to take that approach. At this stage, it’s too early for sales. More testing is needed.
Some industry groups have been putting pressure on Oregon to accelerate what’s allowed, otherwise the state will be left behind. Some states have already given a green light to deploying fully autonomous vehicles on the road.
Joanie Deutsch, executive director of TechNet, a national network of technology CEOs, said in Oregon Business that a testing-only approach might well lead to no testing at all in Oregon. She’s right. Manufacturers and developers looking for places to invest in testing might be more likely to test where the laws give them the most freedom.
It’s also true that autonomous vehicles — all talking to each other — could someday dramatically improve safety. Nearly 30 people are killed every day in the United States by drunken drivers.
But as much potential as there is for the future of autonomous vehicles, the industry has a lot of convincing and improving to make it safe today.
The incident with the Uber autonomous vehicle in Arizona that killed a pedestrian on the street at night in March didn’t help. Driverless cars can behave erratically when encountering people on bikes, pedestrians and animals. There are also many legal issues to sort out, including responsibility for accidents when a driverless vehicle is involved.
Allowing some limited testing seems sensible in Oregon. Allowing sales to the public of fully autonomous vehicles is moving too fast.