Car Buying

Self-Driving Cars: Who Is Regulating Do-It-Yourself Autonomous Vehicles?

RELATED READING
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon

author photo by Russ Heaps March 2017

When it comes to self-driving cars, there's no question that states, as well as the federal government, are lagging far behind the technology curve. Many states still don't have much in the way of regulations for autonomous vehicles (AVs), and the U.S. Department of Transportation only released its first guidelines for testing AVs last fall. Only states in which active AV testing is ongoing, and states that want to attract such testing have stepped up to produce any meaningful regulations for operating AVs on their streets and highways.

Such regulations, for the most part, are aimed at companies (carmakers and autonomous-technology developers) with road-ready test vehicles. But what about the tinkerers and software nerds bright enough to cobble together a self-driving system in their garage?

The Dilemma

Just as enterprising people made bathtub gin during prohibition, right now there are creative types tinkering away on homegrown autonomous-driving systems in garages and basements around the country. The Wright Brothers weren't the only visionaries racing toward manned flight. Inventors around the world were working on contraptions engineered for sustained and controlled flight. Even after that historic first flight in 1903, private innovators, rather than companies, pushed flight technology forward, flying planes they engineered and built themselves.

There is simply no way to gauge how many innovators currently might be developing their own autonomous technology and testing it on public streets.

Just One Example

MIT Technology Review recently ran a story about a senior at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who took his grandmother on a late-night spin in a Honda Civic that drove itself. Here's the catch: It was her own car that he had modified to drive itself without her knowledge. Sure, he was behind the wheel to regain control if anything went amiss during this demo ride, but still....

How did he do it? He downloaded the hardware designs and software from the Internet for an aftermarket autonomous system that never got to market. Once he had all the plans, he spent $700 on parts and built the device. Replacing the Civic's rearview mirror, the device gathers data through its camera to control braking, acceleration and steering. What could possibly go wrong?

The Eventualities

Although the homemade device has some bulit-in safety fail safes, such as signaling for human intervention if it can't interpret a specific situation, and sounding an alert if the driver hasn't touched the steering wheel in several minutes, homemade AVs at their core would seem to pose a lot of risk. It would seem that if a carmaker must apply to a state for a permit to test self-driving cars on public roads, college seniors should, as well.

What it means to you: There are countless things we can do that common sense tells us to avoid, like jumping off the roof with a parachute constructed from an old bed sheet. In that case, however, unless landing on the neighbor's cat, we would be the only ones injured. Putting any self-driving car on the highway poses risk to its surroundings. I don't know about you, but I'd like to think that not just anyone can slap together an autonomous device with instructions from the Internet and a few hundred dollars in parts and point it into traffic.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Self-Driving Cars: Who Is Regulating Do-It-Yourself Autonomous Vehicles? - Autotrader