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Compromise needed for self-driving cars

The nanny crowd — folks who insist only government is capable of protecting us against any hazard — wasted no time in criticizing proposed new federal guidelines for autonomous vehicle makers. “This is a science experiment playing out in real time on our roadways without any safeguards or assurances,” insisted Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao revealed plans for the guidelines, referring to them as “AV 4.0,” last Wednesday. She did so at a technology show in Las Vegas.

Autonomous vehicles — self-driving cars and trucks, some call them — remain a technology with plenty of bugs to work out. Those concerned about them point out that they can be dangerous. There have been documented crashes.

Chao’s policy outline called for “voluntary consensus standards” on AV safety. Her failure to go into detail about them drew some criticism — as it should. Clearly, specific aspects of AV design and operation need to be covered, even in “voluntary consensus” plans.

But overregulating the burgeoning industry could cripple it, quite possibly leading to foreign domination of the AV market in the future.

Some intervention by Washington is desirable. For example, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended AV developers be required to submit safety reports. Under current policy, such reports are voluntary and, according to The Associated Press, “only 16 of about 80 companies testing self-driving vehicles have filed them …”

Surely federal regulators can come up with a reasonable compromise. Americans do want self-driving vehicles — but they do not want to be scared to death of them.

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