Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to full autonomy.
1. The Goldilocks approach to regulation
More than a dozen Massachusetts cities this week signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government to facilitate the public testing of autonomous vehicles across the commonwealth in the largest and most significant multi-jurisdictional easing of driverless rules since a fatal crash earlier this year involving an autonomous vehicle in Arizona.
At the same time, transportation officials in Boston authorized city-wide testing by local driverless startup NuTonomy, the MIT spinoff that Delphi/Aptiv acquired earlier this year for $450 million.
The initiative, which standardizes the process for companies wishing to test across multiple municipalities, positions the state, regulatory-wise, somewhere between the overbearance of California and the unchecked badlands of Arizona, and represents, finally, an earnest attempt by a local government to balance the breakneck pace of innovation with the imperative of oversight and safety.
If the carefully curated California model swaddles you in bubble wrap, the new Massachusetts program might be better likened to a seat belt. Per a Department of Transportation statement, applicants “will need to demonstrate that the vehicle to be tested … can be operated without undue risk to public safety and at all times will have a human being inside the vehicle while it is traveling.” (It isn’t immediately apparent how the state will define what constitutes an undue risk to public safety, however.)
For all the easing of red tape, Boston and the greater commonwealth aren’t exactly testing utopias, primarily because of the aggressiveness of their human drivers. According to a report last year by insurer Allstate, Bostonians are 179 percent more likely than the average American to experience a collision, and Bean Town ranks dead last in a measure of more than 200 cities’ crash-likelihood scores.
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2. Don’t get left behind
Our best-in-industry intelligence service, The Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.
It monitors, digests, and packages everything of consequence to your business: television and radio chatter, social media scoops, legislative and regulatory activity, legal filings, acquisitions, and white papers.
A service of Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs, which yokes traditional legal capabilities with government affairs, corporate competitive analysis, and strategic communications, The Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform.
3. Take it to the bank
The annual social and economic benefits of autonomous vehicles will total more than $800 billion by the year 2050, according to a new forecast by our friends Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE).
The study predicts a future in which any negative social implications resulting from the shift towards autonomy, such as the displacement of professional drivers, will be dwarfed by hundreds of billions of dollars in positive economic activity, quality-of-life improvements and reduced oil consumption.
4. At fault
The distracted safety driver who was behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber when it fatally struck a woman in Arizona was watching a singing competition on her phone during the fateful moments before the collision, law enforcement said this week.
In a new 318-page report, the Tempe Police Department said the accident was “entirely avoidable” and raised the specter of charging the fallback driver with vehicular manslaughter, which carries a sentence of between four and ten years in jail. Police obtained usage data from Hulu which indicated that the driver’s account was streaming the talent show up till the moment of the collision.
Uber explicitly prohibits its safety drivers from using their phones while its prototypes are navigating public roads, and warns they can be terminated for the infraction.
SPEAKING of Arizona crashes: A Waymo minivan was involved in a pileup in Mesa after a drunk driver ran a red light then struck three vehicles in the intersection. A preliminary statement from law enforcement said the van was not operating in autonomous mode at the time.
5. AV P3 in NSW
The government of New South Wales, Australia, said it has earmarked $10 million for a new driverless vehicle fund to spur cooperation between the public and private sectors.
The investment, which will be piecemealed out in increments of $2.5 million per annum over four years, comes just weeks after the country’s National Transport Commission said it would propose legislation to adopt a cohesive federal regulatory regime.