Money is no object for high tech traffic laws

17 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money”, Illinois senator Everett Dirksen said of Washington’s spending habits back in the 1960s. That was when a billion dollars would get you more than a cup of coffee. Heck, it might even have bought an official U.S. Air Force toilet seat back in the day.

Now, it’s only a good start on writing new rules for self-driving cars. The U.S. transportation department is planning to spend $4 billion to come up with new laws and procedures that would allow fully autonomous vehicles to operate on the nation’s roads. That’s what transportation secretary Anthony Foxx told an audience at the Detroit Motor Show last week. The plan, according to Foxx, is to spend the next six months writing rules that he hopes all 50 states will adopt (or the U.S. congress will adopt it for them) for the sake of consistency.

The $4 billion would actually be spent over ten years and, I would like to believe, would do something more than come up with a new model traffic code. It’s tagged as research even though car companies and tech giants, like Google and Apple, are already spending bundles of cash on autonomous vehicle development.

But someone has to write the rules. The California department of motor vehicles has floated draft language for the vehicle code that would allow self driving cars, but only if there was a driver inside with all the usual controls. That hasn’t made Californian tech companies happy. Whether they’ll like the federal version better remains to be seen.