State Rep. Paul Evans says he is all for preserving Oregon’s pioneer spirit and encouraging technological advancement. But when it comes to driverless cars, he has no qualms about hitting the brakes.
In considering autonomous cars in advance of the 2018 legislative session, Evans – a former senior policy advisor to Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s Department of Emergency Management, Military and Veteran’s Affairs and a 20-year Air Force veteran – says we should consider safety first.
“I’m really not the guy trying to stop the 21st century from happening,” says Evans, A Monmouth Democrat who is a member of the transportation policy committee now considering a bill authorizing the use of autonomous vehicles on state highways. “But I do think we should take the time to build into our systems some policies and procedures that address safety standards, and establish responsibility and liability for each stage in the life cycle of a vehicle.
“I’m not a computer or cybersecurity expert, but in my past life, I did deal with situations involved in exploiting a bad defensive network.”
While Evans is not alone in his safety and cybersecurity concerns, autonomous engines are still revving regardless. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in 21 states already have passed legislation establishing legal frameworks for putting autonomous vehicles on the road. Nevada was the first state to OK their operation in 2011. Governors in six states have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.
Portland, is poised to embrace autonomous vehicles faster than the state as a whole.
Two years ago, Daimler, the North Portland truck manufacturer, tested a self-driving truck with a licensed driver on I-84. Last spring, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced that the city was “open for business" to companies developing autonomous vehicles.
At the time of the announcement, Wheeler said: "We can't simply dismiss the idea that autonomous vehicles are going to be a big part of our transportation system. Instead of waiting for this new technology to come here and have us confront it, the responsible thing to do is to prepare for this future."
Since then, the Transportation Bureau has worked on policies for autonomous vehicles that would give developers a roadmap to apply for permits to test them within the city limits.
Dylan Rivera, a PBOT spokesperson, says in terms of testing, the city is offering potentially three options: testing on a controlled, closed track, possibly at the Portland International Raceway, which is a city-owned property; or testing on an actual street but with the street closed to other traffic, and third, a test on public streets with public traffic.
The city also plans to require autonomous vehicle operators to disclose aggregate trip data on an anonymous basis. Rivera says that will allow the city to monitor the use of the vehicles without knowing an individual person's destinations or origins. Also, Portland will require AV operators to promptly disclose to the city any hacks or other unauthorized disclosure of passenger information.
Drivers have concerns
The public at large, however, remains somewhat skeptical. A recent report from AAA revealed that the majority of U.S. drivers seek autonomous technologies in their next vehicle, but they continue to fear the fully self-driving car.
Despite the prospect that autonomous vehicles will be safer, more efficient and more convenient than their human-driven counterparts, three-quarters of U.S. drivers report feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving car, and only 10 percent report that they’d actually feel safer sharing the road with driverless vehicles.
“A great race towards autonomy is underway and companies are vying to introduce the first driverless cars to our roadways,” Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations said at the time the survey was released. “However, while U.S. drivers are eager to buy vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, they continue to fear a fully self-driving vehicle.”
To educate consumers on the effectiveness of emerging vehicle technologies, AAA has committed to the ongoing, unbiased testing of automated vehicle technologies.
Evans says he’s hoping the state takes time for autonomous vehicle education, and for crafting the right, safety-focused approach.
“I’m not as concerned as some to keep pace with other states," he said. "Other states have different financial situations, different geography. There are places right now where my cell phone doesn’t work.
“And whatever people think happened in the 2016 election, it seems clear that people were playing with our electronic spectrum in ways we didn’t recognize, exploiting flaws we weren’t aware of," he continued. "I just want to make sure in the rush to deploy new technology, somebody, somewhere is looking out for public safety."