Opinion: Driverless car bill a disaster waiting to happen

Despite almost daily reports of crashes or non-responsive technology on public roads involving driverless cars, Congress is trying to hitch a new law to Santa’s sleigh in the form of the year-end-keep-the-government-open spending bill, just ahead of a new majority come January.

Today, all motor vehicle operators, particularly commercial drivers, are required to pass a license examination demonstrating a minimum level of competence before sharing the road with anyone else. Yet, this driverless car bill has no licensing requirements for robots and thus no objective validation tests for vehicle safety before allowing the sale of potentially hundreds of thousands of driverless vehicles, all at the behest of, and to the benefit of, the auto and tech industries.

In addition to not being licensed as safe, if passed as proposed, the bill would exempt these computer-driven machines from the liability that humans face when getting behind the wheel. When driverless cars crash — either into one of the 270 million human driven cars already on the road, or pedestrians or bicyclists — the humans involved may be out of luck when it comes to legal protection. While the bill’s authors claim to have addressed a liability loophole involving binding arbitration and other underhanded tactics, there remain hidden surprises for crash victims. The most egregious is the bill’s suspension of arbitration ends when federal rules are put in place. This is cold comfort. Defective Takata airbag inflators, GM ignition switches and Firestone tires were all also subject to federal rules, which were obviously violated resulting in many fatalities. At least their victims had access to the civil justice system providing an opportunity to seek their day in court…

Click here to read our full op-ed in The Baltimore Sun.