If you envision the Chicago of the future, complete with sprawling skyscrapers, delivery drones, and automated cars cruising down brightly-lit streets, you probably aren’t imagining the same city as some of Chicago’s government officials. In recently-proposed legislation, the city of Chicago may well ban automated vehicles entirely.
Aldermen Ed Burke and Anthony Beale proposed the ordinance in a city council meeting this past Friday. In a report from the Chicago Tribune, the penalty for operating a driverless car without a human behind the wheel is a $500 fine. This ordinance would apply to every street within Chicago’s city limits.
“We do not want the streets of Chicago to be used as an experiment that will no doubt come with its share of risks, especially for pedestrians,” Burke said in a press release from the city’s Committee on Finance. “No technology is one-hundred percent safe.”
This statement is in stark contrast to the data currently available on autonomous and self-driving vehicles which indicate that they are, even in their infancy, as safe or safer than human drivers. Google, one of the pioneers in self-driving technology, has operated autonomous vehicles in multiple states with over 1.9 million miles of distance covered since 2009. During that time, its vehicles have only been found at fault in a single accident where the car side-swiped a bus to avoid debris which were blocking its path in the road.
While Google’s self-driving program has been in other accidents, including one being hit by a drunk driver recently in Chandler, AZ. This is one of over a dozen cases where human error either on the part of a human operator in the Google vehicle or in another vehicle were found at fault.
There have been reports of accidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot system, an in-beta self-driving system available in many Tesla vehicles. This system is not currently advertised or intended to serve as an autonomous technology. Instead, it depends on a human driver being present, mindful, and ready to take the wheel at any moment. There was a fatality reported that involved a Tesla this year, in which a brightly-lit sky masked the white side of a semi trailer that was blocking the road. Neither the driver nor the car was able to detect its presence in time to stop.
Chicago would be the first city to ban
If this legislation passes, Chicago will be among the first cities in the United States to ban autonomous vehicles outright. As more cities take this stand, a future where you could send your car across the country or even city-to-city becomes exceedingly more difficult to imagine.
The news isn’t all bad for autonomous car fans. Pittsburgh has become the testing ground for Uber’s autonomous vehicle project, which it hopes will one day enable autonomous vehicles to drive to, pick up, and drop off passengers without the need of a human driver behind the wheel. While there certainly is a place in our visions for the future of an autonomous roadway filled with fast-moving cars without steering wheels, we’re not going to get there without convincing a few naysayers along the way.