[ExI] green flag on tesla robocars

Dave Sill sparge at gmail.com
Wed Sep 21 16:52:24 UTC 2016

On Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 5:44 PM, spike <spike66 at att.net> wrote:

> Anyone here have the straight dope?

Critique of NHTSA's newly released regulations
Submitted by brad <http://ideas.4brad.com/user/brad> on Mon, 2016-09-19

   - Robocars <http://ideas.4brad.com/topic/robocars>

The long awaited list of recommendations and potential regulations for
has just been released by NHTSA, the federal agency that regulates car
safety and safety issues in car manufacture. Normally, NHTSA does not
regulate car technology before it is released into the market, and the
agency, while it says it is wary of slowing down this safety-increasing
technology, has decided to do the unprecedented — and at a whopping 115

Broadly, this is very much the wrong direction. Nobody — not Google, Uber,
Ford, GM or certainly NHTSA — knows the precise form of these cars will
have when deployed. Almost surely something will change from our existing
knowledge today. They know this, but still wish to move. Some of the larger
players have pushed for regulation. Big companies like certainty. They want
to know what the rules will be before they invest. Startups thrive better
in the chaos, making up the rules as we go along.

NHTSA hopes to define “best practices” but the best anybody can do in 2016
is lay down existing practices and conventional wisdom. The entirely new
methods of providing safety that are yet to be invented won’t be in such a

The document is very detailed, so it will generate several blog posts of
analysis. Here I present just initial reactions. Those reactions are
broadly negative. This document is too detailed by an order of magnitude.
Its regulations begin today, but fortunately they are also accepting public
comment. The scope of the document is so large, however, that it seems
extremely unlikely that they would scale back this document to the level it
should be at. As such, the progress of robocar development in the USA may
be seriously negatively affected.
Vehicle performance guidelines

The first part of the regulations is a proposed 15 point safety standard.
It must be certified (by the vendor) that the car meets these standards.
NHTSA wants the power, according to an Op-Ed by no less than President
Obama, to be able to pull cars from the road that don’t meet these safety

   - Data Recording and Sharing
   - Privacy
   - System Safety
   - Vehicle Cybersecurity
   - Human Machine Interface
   - Crashworthiness
   - Consumer Education and Training
   - Registration and Certification
   - Post-Crash Behavior
   - Federal, State and Local Laws
   - Operational Design Domain
   - Object and Event Detection and Response
   - Fall Back (Minimal Risk Condition)
   - Validation Methods
   - *Ethical Considerations*

As you might guess, the most disturbing is the last one. As I have written
many times <http://ideas.4brad.com/enough-trolley-problem-already>, the
issue of ethical “trolley problems” where cars must decide between killing
one person are another are a philosophy class tool, not a guide to real
world situations. Developers should spend as close to zero effort on these
problems as possible, since they are not common enough to warrant special
attention, if not for our morbid fascination with machines making life or
death decisions in hypothetical situations. Let the policymakers
<http://ideas.4brad.com/let-policymakers-handle-trolley-problems> answer
these questions if they want to; programmers and vendors don’t.

For the past couple of years, this has been a game that’s kept people
entertained and ethicists employed. The idea that government regulations
might demand solutions to these problems before these cars can go on the
road is appalling. If these regulations are written this way, *we will
delay saving lots of real lives in the interest of debating which highly
hypothetical lives will be saved or harmed in ridiculously rare situations*.

NHTSA’s rules demand that ethical decisions be “made consciously and
intentionally.” Algorithms must be “transparent” and based on input from
regulators, drivers, passengers and road users. While the section makes
mention of machine learning techniques, it seems in the same breath to
forbid them.

Most of the other rules are more innocuous. Of course all vendors will know
and have little trouble listing what roads their car works on, and they
will have extensive testing data on the car’s perception system and how it
handles every sort of failure. However, the requirement to keep the
government constantly updated will be burdensome. Some vehicles will be
adding streets to their route map literally ever day.

While I have been a professional privacy advocate, and I do care about just
how the privacy of car users is protected, I am frankly not that concerned
during the pilot project phase about how well this is done. I do want a
good regime — and even the ability to do anonymous taxi
<http://ideas.4brad.com/maintaining-privacy-robotaxi> — so it’s perhaps not
too bad to think about these things now, but I suspect these regulations
will be fairly meaningless unless written in consultation with independent
privacy advocates. The hard reality is that during the test phase, even a
privacy advocate has to admit that the cars will need to make very
extensive recordings of everything they can, so that any problems
encountered can be studied and fixed and placed into the test suite.
50 state laws

NHTSA’s plan has been partially endorsed by the self-driving coalition for
safer streets (whose members include big players Ford, Google, Volvo, Uber
and Lyft.) They like the fact that it has guidance for states on how to
write their regulations, fearing that regulations may differ too much state
to state. I have written that having 50 sets of rules may not be that bad
an idea
because jurisdictional competition can allow legal innovation and having
software load new parameters as you drive over a border is not that hard.

In this document NHTSA asks the states to yield to the DOT on regulating
robocar operation and performance. States should stick to registering cars,
rules of the road, safety inspections and insurance. States will regulate
human drivers as before, but the feds will regulate computer drivers.

States will still regulate testing, in theory, but the test cars must
comply with the federal regulations.
New Authorities

A large part of the document just lists the legal justifications for NHTSA
to regulate in this fashion and is primarily for policy wonks. Section 4,
however, lists new authorities NHTSA is going to seek in order to do more

Some of the authorities they may see include:

   - Pre-market safety assurance: Defining testing tools and methods to be
   used before selling
   - Pre-market approval authority: Vendors would need approval from NHTSA
   before selling, rather than self-certifying compliance with the regulations
   - Hybrid approaches of pre-market approval and self-certification
   - Cease and desist authority: The ability to demand cars be taken off
   the road
   - Exemption authority: An ability to grant rue exemptions for testing
   - Post-sale authority to regulate software changes
   - Much more

Other quick notes:

   - NHTSA has abandoned their levels in favour of the SAE’s. The SAE’s
   were almost identical of course, with the addition of a “level 5” which is
   meaningless because it requires a vehicle that can drive literally
   everywhere, and there is not really a commercial reason to make a car at
   present that can do that.
   - NHTSA is now pushing the acronym “HAV” (highly automated vehicle) as
   yet another contender in the large sea of names people use for this
   technology. (Self-driving car, driverless car, autonomous vehicle,
   automated vehicle, robocar etc.)

Today has meetings for me but much more analysis is on the way.
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