Automated Vehicles are Probably Legal in the United States

Bryant Walker Smith writes 99 pages saying Automated Vehicles are Probably Legal in the United States:

“This paper provides the most comprehensive discussion to date of whether so-called automated, autonomous, self-driving, or driverless vehicles can be lawfully sold and used on public roads in the United States. The short answer is that the computer direction of a motor vehicle’s steering, braking, and accelerating without real-time human input is probably legal. The long answer, which follows, provides a foundation for tailoring regulations and understanding liability issues related to these vehicles.
The paper’s largely descriptive analysis, which begins with the principle that everything is permitted unless prohibited, covers three key legal regimes: the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, regulations enacted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the vehicle codes of all fifty US states.
The Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a party, probably does not prohibit automated driving. The treaty promotes road safety by establishing uniform rules, one of which requires every vehicle or combination thereof to have a driver who is “at all times … able to control” it. However, this requirement is likely satisfied if a human is able to intervene in the automated vehicle’s operation.
NHTSA’s regulations, which include the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to which new vehicles must be certified, do not generally prohibit or uniquely burden automated vehicles, with the possible exception of one rule regarding emergency flashers.
State vehicle codes probably do not prohibit—but may complicate—automated driving. These codes assume the presence of licensed human drivers who are able to exercise human judgment, and particular rules may functionally require that presence. New York somewhat uniquely directs a driver to keep one hand on the wheel at all times. In addition, far more common rules mandating reasonable, prudent, practicable, and safe driving have uncertain application to automated vehicles and their users. Following distance requirements may also restrict the lawful operation of tightly spaced vehicle platoons. Many of these issues arise even in the three states that expressly regulate automated vehicles.
The primary purpose of this paper is to assess the current legal status of automated vehicles. However, the paper includes draft language for US states that wish to clarify this status. It also recommends five near-term measures that may help increase legal certainty without producing premature regulation. First, regulators and standards organizations should develop common vocabularies and definitions that are useful in the legal, technical, and public realms. Second, the United States should closely monitor efforts to amend or interpret the 1969 Vienna Convention, which contains language similar to the Geneva Convention but does not bind the United States. Third, NHTSA should indicate the likely scope and schedule of potential regulatory action. Fourth, US states should analyze how their vehicle codes would or should apply to automated vehicles, including those that have an identifiable human operator and those that do not. Finally, additional research on laws applicable to trucks, buses, taxis, low-speed vehicles, and other specialty vehicles may be useful. This is in addition to ongoing research into the other legal aspects of vehicle automation.”

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

First do no harm: Cities and infrastructure as living systems |

Cross-posted from First do no harm: Cities and infrastructure as living systems 

First do no harm: Cities and infrastructure as living systems

Cities, and the infrastructure networks that bind them, are alive.Wikipedia says:

Life (cf. biota) is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased (death), or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate. Biology is the science concerned with the study of life.

Any contiguous living system is called an organism. Organisms undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations. More complex living organisms can communicate through various means.

The city has often been likened to an organism, with downtown representing the control functions of the brain. Scientists have examined the city’s metabolism, and ask what nature teaches about cities.

The better analogy is probably that of the superorganism. Like an ant colony, a city (which obviously contain lots of individual organisms, us) and its infrastructure persists over time, taking in and sending out resources. The city grows (or dies) and occasionally sends off spores to form a new metropole.

Money in the urban economy is then analogous to the energy and food supplies needed by more conventional life forms. The more trade, the larger the city can grow. And like a tree which grows up and out, with a rotted out core, the same often happens to cities. Interaction with the outside world, the source of energy or economic resources, takes place at the boundaries of an organism. The super-organism may eventually decide it doesn’t need the inside or finds that is best used for storage. Or it may rediscover its abandoned areas. The tension between agglomeration and external trade is resolved in different ways in different places.

We also talk about the lifecycle of technologies, from birth, to growth, to maturity, to decline, analogizing technologies to living organisms. Individual deployments of those technologies may follow similar lifecycles.

The “production function” of living systems combines fixed and variable costs. As a homeowner we may plant a tree. But if we don’t take care of the tree, its likelihood of long-term success is low. We maintain it. We prune it. We water it. We protect from bugs, and so on. We don’t “set it and forget it” about trees, nor should we about infrastructure. We need to think about the lifecycle of buildings and infrastructures. Eventually they fail or we realize they are going to fail, or we might want to replace them because they are functionally obsolete. To keep them alive we need to monitor, maintain, repair, and eventually rebuild these systems, alternatively we might just abandon them.

Epidemiology studies the state of human health, as measured by the presence or absence of disease, as well as the causes of those diseases, whether genetic, behavioral, or environment. Someone should similarly be responsible for studying and treating the state of urban health, focusing upon the city’s circulatory system, and looking at causes including human behavior and the urban environment (which is usually taken as fixed) in which humans interact. As knowledge from epidemiology leads to treatments by doctors prescribing medicine, nutritionists telling the patient to change his habits, or regulators changing environmental standards, knowledge from transportation leads to treatments by traffic engineers prescribing angioplasty for the hardened arterials of our city, planners building bypasses, or gurus telling us to change our behavior or urban environment.


There is at least one useful lesson from medicine: First do no harm. We would not want a doctor to chop off our arm, and leave a gaping hole for a few decades while he figured out what to do next. We should consider why we permit destruction of functional if not optimal parts of cities well before we have any plan or resources to close the gaping wound with something else functional. The equivalent of a city’s doctors need to require replacement by something other than a vacant lot or surface parking before they permit demolition.

The point is that instead of viewing cities as inorganic discrete objects, we should think about the city as a holistic super organism: where changes to one component have effects on many others, and where decisions now shape the choices available later.