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Tech First, Regulations Second: Driverless Car Testing Begins In Arizona

driverless car
(Photo courtesy of Google)
A Google self-driving car.

Don't be shocked when you see the car next to you speeding down the freeway with no one behind the wheel.

Google and General Motors are conducting tests of driverless cars in Arizona. And it turns out that there apparently are no laws which would prohibit manufacturers from marketing them today to consumers. Nor are there specific rules about how they have to be operated and how much actual control, if any, a human needs to have.

Kevin Biesty of the state Department of Transportation said this is not the first time regulations have to catch up. "Everything from electricity to the railroads to airplanes— the technology came out [first] and rules [and] regulations follow," he said.

On Monday, ADOT Director John Halikowski told members of a special panel formed to study the issue that there are lots of unanswered questions. Such as: does someone need a driver's license to operate a self-driving vehicle? Can you send the self-driving car to take the kids to school if there's no adult? If a self-driving car speeds, who gets the ticket— the person behind the wheel or the company that programmed it?

And what about high-tech hacking of driving software?

Biesty said that's on the list of issues. "That's a good question. And that's something that we can hopefully at least discuss with this committee and work with the companies to see how they're addressing that," he said.

But Biesty said one thing the committee will not recommend is keeping driverless cars out of Arizona.

"Oh, no. I don't see that at all. I mean the technology and the testing, we would actually encourage companies to come here and utilize Arizona roadways, the environment, the unique environment that you could be up in the snow one day testing and back down in the Valley testing under completely different conditions," he said.

It could be months before the committee comes up with some recommendations.