When the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) spoke up about automated driving in June, it wasn’t just laying out best practices — it was also supporting one side in the countrywide debate over how much control automated vehicles should have.
And its stance aligns with the Google philosophy, which happens to be somewhat opposed to the California Department of Motor Vehicles' philosophy. NACTO’s policy statement included a stance that it’s dangerous to ask humans to stay ready to take over driving after the car has been driving itself.
“Going halfway with partially automated vehicles, instead of fully automated, would require drivers to take over if the vehicle encounters a dangerous situation,” a NACTO press release reads. “In practice, such vehicles have been shown to encourage unsafe driving behavior, with drivers reading more, texting more and generally being inattentive while the vehicle is in motion.”
That aligns closely with statements that Google’s self-driving car project members have put out in the past.
“People trust technology very quickly once they see it works,” an October 2015 report from the Google self-driving car project reads. “As a result, it’s difficult for them to dip in and out of the task of driving when they are encouraged to switch off and relax.”
Meanwhile, the California DMV is proposing regulations that would require cars to have a steering wheel, drivers to have a license and the vehicle’s software to hand control to humans under a variety of circumstances. Google representatives have criticized the proposal, prompting the state’s lieutenant governor to agree with Google and the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog to support the DMV.
The debate has turned into something of a philosophical schism in the national conversation about automated driving — since most driving right now isn’t automated, how should society transition to a new status quo where most or all driving is automated?
A new entry into that discussion also kicked up recently when Tesla Motors announced the first confirmed fatal accident while one of its cars was driving in Autopilot mode. The mode is semi-automated, meaning the car will perform most of the functions of driving without a human’s direct control, but Tesla has maintained that drivers should stay ready to take over while the car is in Autopilot mode.
The NACTO policy statement included several other guiding philosophies for city transportation officials who are preparing for a future where vehicles drive humans instead of the opposite. Among the organization’s other stances were: