The Driverless Commute, presented by Dentons: 71 percent of drivers believe they can buy an AV today; new hopes for Senate legislation in Waymo’s first commercial pilot; and how cities are readying for AVs.

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. Fake News!

Of all the varied and mortal threats to the global self-driving order, none is greater than the gross exaggerations used by some auto marketers to hype the road capabilities of their advanced driver assistance systems.

Chasing a competitive edge to be first-to-market with “self-driving technology,” some automakers have begun pursuing a strategy of incremental automation, offering consumers what are, at best, nominal driverless applications. By falsely promising–by their very names, no less–that these constrained platforms are capable of “piloting” a vehicle, the industry has begun to spawn a dangerous delta between public perceptions and actual capabilties of autonomous vehicles.

To wit, the UK-based Thatcham Research Center, Britain’s answer to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reported Thursday the findings of a new global survey:

  • Seven in ten drivers around the world believe they can purchase an autonomous vehicle sitting on a car lot this very moment.
  • One in ten drivers around the world say they would be comfortable taking a nap at the wheel when an assisted driving system has been activated.
  • Half of global drivers believe they would not be liable in the event of a failure by an assisted driving system.

Every self-driving system available to consumers today is capable only of supporting a driver, not replacing him or her. Full, unrestricted autonomy is achieved only at Level 5. What’s currently available could, at best, be rated as “Level 2-plus” by SAE standards.

Not that you would know it based on the breathless hype.

We leave you with this quote from Aurora Innovation co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, the engineering giant who formerly headed Google’s self-driving unit: The “entire industry [needs] to be more truthful about our capabilities. … We’re talking about building trust in the public. You don’t do that by overstating what the system can and can’t do.

The Driverless Commute, a subscription-based service, is provided by Dentons’ global Autonomous Vehicles team. If you believe a colleague or associate would benefit from this service, please share this link so they may subscribe.

2. Could Phoenix unclog Senate legislative jam?

In a matter of mere weeks anyone in the Phoenix metropolitan area will be able to summon an autonomous vehicle when Arizona’s capital city becomes home to the first commercial robotaxi service in the United States.

When Waymo—which earlier this month announced it had logged more than 10 million autonomously driven miles on public roads—opens the floodgates later this year with an “early rider” program open to anyone with a smart phone, the self-driving giant will offer policy makers (as well as its own rivals) the first test of the public’s appetite for the technology.

Could a public clamor for the service translate into new legislative activity during a lame duck session of Congress, where a comprehensive regulatory framework has stalled over Democratic concerns related to safety and cyber standards.

3. Cities as laboratories of AV innovation

More than half of America’s largest cities are recruiting and actively preparing for self-driving experimentation in urban centers, according to a new national municipal survey by the National League of Cities.

The trends, per NLC:

  • City government preparation has risen dramatically, to more than 50 percent nationally, up from just 10 percent only three years ago.
  • Between 2017 and 2011, 22 state legislatures passed a total of 46 autonomous driving bills, and the governors of another 5 states signed executive orders encouraging development of AVs.
  • In the last year alone, some 98 AV-related bills were passed or en route to adoption in 28 states.

The new report also profiles the diverse approaches to the deployment of driverless cars by six cities: Arlington, TX (home to a Drive.AI pilot); Boston (home to a NuTonomy pilot); Portland, OR (which released an RFI to AV firms this summer); Pittsburgh (home to autonomous research hotbed Carnegie Mellon); San Jose, CA (whose city government created an autonomous vehicle division and is home to a last-mile driverless delivery pilot by AutoX; and Chandler, AZ (home to Waymo’s early rider pilot).

Download the full report (PDF) here.

4. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

5. Know everything AV, all the time

Our best-in-industry intelligence service, The Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.

The Console 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 to government affairs, corporate competitive analysis and strategic communications, The Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform. Click here to request a no-obligation demonstration of the service with James and Eric.

Click here to speak with our experts and attorneys across the world to learn more about any of the items contained in this newsletter.


Subscribe and stay updated
Receive our latest blog posts by email.
Eric Tanenblatt

About Eric Tanenblatt

Eric Tanenblatt is the Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation of Dentons, the world's largest law firm. He also leads the firm's US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

Full bio

James Richardson

About James Richardson

James Richardson is a strategic communications counselor with 15 years’ experience advising presidential candidates, Global Fortune 500 executives, national nonprofits, and sovereign governments on strategic communications and reputation management. He helps lead Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs practice.

Full bio