National legislation paves the way for self-driving automobiles

Monday, September 11, 2017 - 4:57pm

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Amelia Cacchione/Daily

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that will pave the way for advancements in self-driving automobile technology. The bill, titled the “Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution Act” or the “SELF DRIVE Act,” was supported by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. and sponsored by Rep. Robert Latta, R-Ohio.

The SELF DRIVE Act aims to advance safety by prioritizing the protection of consumers and reaffirming the role of federal and state governments in the future self-driving technology. The Energy and Commerce Committee’s website read the legislation will “update the federal motor vehicle safety standards to account for advances in technology and the evolution of highly automated vehicles” and “maximize opportunities for research and development here in the U.S. to create jobs and grow economic opportunities so that America can remain a global leader in this industry.”

In a press release, Dingell said she believes the bill brings many benefits to the United States.

“Today, with passage of the SELF DRIVE Act, we are one step closer to reshaping American innovation for generations to come,” Dingell said. “Automated vehicles have the potential to transform mobility in this country – reducing congestion on our roads, providing greater independence to seniors and those with disabilities and helping to prevent the 35,000 deaths on our roadways each year.”

Business sophomore Bethany Zalewski is involved with research in driver behavior and trust with autonomous vehicles. She shared her hopes for the legislation’s impact in the real world.

“This could reduce distracted driving, drunk driving or texting and driving,” Zalewski said. “The University of Michigan and Mcity are definitely playing a big role in developing these self-driving cars.”

The SELF DRIVE Act has important implications for the University’s campus, such as research institute Mcity

Director of Mcity Huei Peng believes the SELF DRIVE Act is important for the research institute.

“Many of the laws in the past were developed based on the belief that the vehicle is driven by a human operator, but as we are developing new technology and some of the language used in these rules may no longer apply,” Peng said. “I think for the research community that is working on automated vehicles, certainty this is a very important, positive step forward.”

According to Peng, there are three levels of autonomous vehicles: Guardian, which acts as a last resort for safety in case a driver is distracted; Co-pilot, which features cruise control and a constant safe distance between cars; and Chauffeur, which is a completely driverless vehicle.

The benefits of self-driving cars are numerous. According to a study from the Eno Center for Transportation, if 90 percent of cars were autonomous, as many as 21,700 lives could be saved per year in addition to the $447 billion in economic benefits.

“Safety is number one, because today there is plenty of evidence that today’s drivers are getting more distracted: people keep talking on their phones, texting and checking things,” Peng said. “The beauty of robots is that they are very consistent; they don’t get distracted and won’t have road rage.”

Lives aren’t the only thing saved with more autonomous vehicles on the road; the economic and social benefits of these vehicles have potential to make a significant difference in the nation’s economy. In 2014, the U.S. spent about $871 billion a year in economic loss and due to automobile accidents, with $277 billion being allocated for economic costs and $594 billion attributed to the "loss of life and the pain and decreased quality of life because of injuries."

LSA senior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said the SELF DRIVE Act could positively benefit the country.

“The U.S. spends so much money on car crashes in terms of the property damage of highways, insurance and health care as well; the total social costs is around $800 billion,” Zalamea said. “Self-driving cars would be incredibly beneficial to the economy, because of their cost-saving benefits to the government who spends so much money.”

Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, communications director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, who is also a columnist for the Daily, also said she endorses the benefits of autonomous vehicles.

“I’m happy to see a bipartisan commitment to monitor and improve advanced technology,” Schandevel wrote. “If all goes well, this technology will hopefully make the city safer.”

Dingell said the legislation also seeks to make transportation more accessible for the elderly and the disabled, two groups of people whose needs are sometimes unmet due to unavailability or high costs of adequate transportation.

A driverless shuttle service will be a feature of North Campus. Automated pizza delivery cars have also found their way into the Mcity Test Facility, and 1,500 vehicles have been deployed through connected infrastructure in Ann Arbor with the hope of studying the impact these connected technologies have on congestion and pedestrian safety.

Zalamea mentioned how he thinks University students could directly benefit from more autonomous vehicles being on the road.

“I think this would be a big benefit for students, especially with making shuttles more efficient,” Zalamea said. “As a freshman, I remember always waiting for the Bursley-Baits bus at night, and I think autonomous shuttles could make this more efficient.”