Google told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee that Congress must fast-track self-driving cars by waiving states’ rights with a federal takeover of all roads and highways, the better to keep America ahead of Europe, China, and Japan, which are “hot on our heels.”
Chris Urmson, director of Google’s driverless car unit, complained about what he called a “growing patchwork” of state regulations that threatened the viability of autonomous vehicles on U.S. highways. He added that without vehicles having unified rules for travel between states, it will be a “challenge in delivering the technology broadly.”
Urmson claims the problem is that “In the past two years, 23 states have introduced 53 pieces of legislation that affect self-driving cars — all of which include different approaches and concepts.” But he failed to mention growing that problem about safety after Google’s driverless car was cited in a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) accident report on February 14 for slamming into the side of a Mountain View city bus.
As the undisputed 800-pound gorilla in the tech sector, Google has surpassed every defense contractor to become the second largest spender on corporate lobbying in Washington, D.C.
Breitbart News reported in “Best ‘Net Neutrality’ Silicon Valley Money Can Buy” that Silicon Valley lobbying expenditures by computer/Internet companies hit $139.5 million and employed 1,094 registered lobbyists in 2014. A quarter of the industry’s funding came from contributions from Google ($16,830,000), Facebook ($9,340,000), and Microsoft Corp ($8,330,000).
The Left may like to talk about “People Power,” but its allies in Silicon Valley see lobbying cash as “Corporate Power.” This is especially true, given that 68.3 percent of computer/Internet industry lobbyists were “revolvers,” the term for former federal employees who pass through the “revolving door” and shuffle into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists, just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers, according to the Open Secrets blog.
Nobody doubts that Google is in a competitive race to move its driverless cars into full deployment. But Google has learned that when it comes to members of the public riding in driverless cars, they quickly become too comfortable and lose their ability to override driverless vehicle automated systems in the event of an emergency.
According to a report by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Google’s main foe for self-driving cars has been its own testing record. John Simpson of the Consumer Watchdog reported that “Two hundred seventy-two times essentially the computer said, ‘I can’t handle this,’ and turned over control. The test driver felt compelled to intervene 69 times.” He added that allowing Google and others to get rid of a steering wheel and a brake pedal would be dangerous.
Google has gone to Congress in hopes of circumventing an imminent release of California rules that would bar fully “autonomous vehicles” without steering wheels and brake pedals. Draft regulations advocated by the state DMV would require all driverless vehicles to have human-override capability as a redundant safety feature in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.
The U.S. Traffic Safety Administration also issued a preliminary report this month stating that allowing driverless cars without steering wheels or brake pedals does not meet federal regulations and would require a Congressional exemption for even federally-regulated roads. The Safety Board suggested Google “might wish to reconsider its view that a pedal may never be needed in any circumstance, and that there is not a risk of harm associated with a pedal’s absence.”
That is why Google is boldly demanding one of the greatest potential expansions of federal intrusions upon the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which for two centuries has protected the right of each state to regulate local driving on its roads.