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作者: 来源: 日期:2016/9/19 8:26:18

Leader_The future of self-driving cars is in human hands





The launch this week of Uber’s “self-driving fleet” of taxis in Pittsburgh marks the first time that members of the public have been able to experience a self-driving car. While these are not fully autonomous vehicles — the driver is able to intervene — they are capable of driving themselves. Their trial run could be a first step to normalising their presence on American roads.



In a sense, semi-autonomous cars are hardly a new thing for US drivers. Manufacturers like Tesla have been dreaming up gizmos that make it easier for drivers to chill out at the wheel. A fatal accident this year that involved one of the electric carmaker’s “assisted” vehicles is a reminder of the safety risks inherent when machines do the driving. One is that the cameras on which the vehicle depends to gauge its position when manoeuvring are not always fail safe. Another is a false sense of security for drivers who pay less than full attention because of the perception that the car is capable of driving itself without any human intervention.



In the absence of clear safety rules, these cars raise pressing questions that need to be resolved. Car manufacturers are split over whether hands-off driving should be allowed even if a car is driving itself.



But they agree that another fatal crash would seriously damage the future of the industry. As these vehicles become more readily accessible, regulation is needed to resolve ambiguities in safety rules.



Carmakers need to become more transparent about the technology behind their products. Rather than marketing driverless systems, regulators should insist carmakers talk about driver assistance systems, thus eliminating the false sense of security that comes with a manufactured vision of a driverless era.



Apart from clearer safety rules, there are pressing liability issues that obscure the line of responsibility between carmakers and drivers. Although the cars require drivers to stay alert, this remains blurred territory, which could be resolved by determining the conditions under which the driver is fully responsible for handling the vehicle.



But if the adoption of self-driving cars is to be accelerated, regulators need to insist on further trials beyond Pittsburgh. These will be essential not only in order to improve safety technologies but also to gain a better understanding of the risks.



Ideally, safety regulations would be harmonised with an international agreement. In the US, a helpful first step would be to introduce federal legislation to prevent the emergence of diverse regulation in 50 different states. Competing standards are not only burdensome for carmakers but would also reduce the scale needed for the wider rollout in the market.



Indeed, the potential benefits of driverless vehicles will only emerge when they operate on a much larger scale. Hypothetically these cars could be safer than those driven by humans, and could help to reduce the 1.2m deaths in car accidents worldwide each year. Additionally, they could improve productivity by improving traffic congestion and saving time.



For these benefits to be realised, regulators need to step in and resolve interim issues. Technology tends to outpace regulation but a speedier response from the regulators would reduce the lag between developing more advanced vehicles and their market uptake.



More clarity about safety issues would enable carmakers and early adopters to move towards this. For now, the future rests in the hands of humans.