States Forge Ahead With Self-Driving Cars; Lawmakers Cautiously Optimistic About Possibilities

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The vehicles once thought to be cars of the future are now a not-so-distant reality. Across the nation, state lawmakers are passing legislation to get driverless autos out on the road in a matter of months.

In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee just signed an order that would allow tests for self-driving cars to begin in less than two months. The order allows self-driving car companies to send in applications as part of Washington’s pilot program tests. These tests would not require a human to monitor from the driver’s seat.

Governor Inslee seems to have complete faith in technology, especially as compared to human drivers. In the order and in his related blog post, Inslee says that approximately 94% of all car accidents are caused by driver error. And in a statement obtained by The Seattle Times, the governor explained:

“One thing I know about radar, it doesn’t drive drunk, it doesn’t drive distracted. We humans are really good at a lot of things, driving cars isn’t necessarily one of them compared to the automated processes that are digital and foolproof. I just have huge confidence in the safety aspects of this.”

Proponents of self-driving vehicles would likely agree. The average drunk driver may drive intoxicated 80 times before they’re ever arrested, but that doesn’t mean significant damage can’t be done the first time. Experts say that self-driving vehicles would literally keep intoxicated persons from getting behind the wheel, enabling them — and countless others on the road — to get home safely without incident.

Whether a driver knocks back a few too many or consumes more than four drinks per day — which is typically considered to be “too much” for the average male — a self-driving car could remove decision-making from the equation. Instead of having to decide whether they’re sober enough to drive or that it’s time to call for an Uber, they could get in their own vehicle and essentially be chauffeured around.

Although lawmakers in other states are optimistic about the possibilities, they may not be as willing to put total trust in the tech.

In Tennessee, legislators passed a bill that will ready the state’s roads for autonomous vehicles. However, the bill has received several amendments to ensure safety first.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. William Lamberth, told WATE, “You have to make sure that the bill still protects us from someone trying to rush technology out there on the road, so that’s why [the bill] is so thick. We are ready for these cars now. We have got the statutory framework in place so that these companies can sell these vehicles in Tennessee the moment they are guaranteed safe.”

Liability is a chief concern for lawmakers, as self-driving vehicles would require substantially higher insurance policies and drivers would face different penalties for not following existing laws. For example, if a child is left unbuckled in a self-driving vehicle, parents would face violations. But drivers wouldn’t necessarily have to be licensed when they get into an autonomous auto.

There’s still much that needs to be ironed out before these cars are allowed onto public roadways. That said, they do hold the potential to drastically reduce preventable tragedies — if you can afford to pay millions for your car insurance, that is. For now, it’ll be less costly to call a cab.