Here's How Congress Could Change The Future Of Self-Driving Cars

Autonomous driving is the next big thing, but there will need to be laws in place to regulate it. Perhaps the biggest issue is cyber security, as there's a huge potential for private information being vulnerable or hackers taking control of cars.


May 26 2019, Updated 3:02 p.m. ET

Tech continues to open up new legal questions for the government to consider, and smart vehicles are no exception. To begin with, automated driving and cars communicating with each other are completely new avenues in the world of transportation. In order to gain more confidence from potential consumers in the United States, there’s going to be new rules and regulations for car manufacturers to abide by. The US Congress has a number of issues they’re looking at when it comes time for legislation later this year.

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Security is a big theme throughout legislation, and it’s about more than just autonomous technology potentially failing. Another issue is hacking that could be involved. This has been a problem with all modes of transportation that can connect to the internet, and autonomous vehicles would certainly have that feature when it comes to updating itself, putting in orders, and setting a destination..

A lot of personal information could potentially be inside your car at any given time, which makes the threat of hacking feel very real. For example, think about putting in an order while on the road. There’s likely not going to be many times that we’ll pull out a credit card and list off numbers, codes, and the date it expires. All that information will be in the car already, and the process will feel seamless. Unfortunately, some fear that means it can easily be taken from a hacker who decides to infiltrate the autonomous vehicle’s computer system.

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Another issue is the potential for these autonomous cars to be completely hijacked. That means instead of going to their destination, they’ll be at the control of whoever takes it over. Semi-autonomous vehicles can be taken control of a human at any time, but former Uber employee Charlie Miller warns of so many potential aspects of a fully autonomous car in an interview with Wired, noting, "In an autonomous vehicle, the computer can apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel any amount, at any speed. The computers are even more in charge."

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Miller now works at Didi, a Chinese competitor that works in autonomous ride-sharing. While it’s a scary thought, there’s similar vulnerabilities when having wireless routers in community areas. It’s incredibly easy to hack into them, but most people are safe when they encrypt it. There will likely be similar options for people to help secure their cars, but there’s an alarming number of people that don’t even go the extra mile for their internet privacy.

Part of why Miller has been so open on these issues is because he wants the industry to be more transparent. He’s likely hoping that they can catch these issues before they become major. After all, no autonomous car has been in a significant case where they've been taken over by a hijacker as of yet.

All of this gives quite the responsibility to Congress in terms of setting legislation. The auto industry is pushing for blanket laws across the United States in ongoing hearings. Perhaps the biggest worry is laws becoming obsolete as the technology continues to improve. In general, it’s difficult for rules and restrictions to adapt to changing technology once they've been set, and with the pace smart cars are moving, legislation may struggle to keep up.


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