Editorial: Don't race ahead with self-driving cars
Uber suspended its trials of all self-driving vehicles nationwide after the pedestrian death last week in Tempe, Ariz., but the push toward driverless cars remains at full throttle in some parts of the country.
That's not the case in Minnesota, thankfully. The state has yet to let such vehicles loose on streets with general traffic, said Jay Hietpas, state traffic engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Any trials or demonstrations have been conducted in controlled settings.
Still, he said, technology that enables vehicles to operate with less human control may hold promise.
The key word is less — not complete — control. At this time there simply are too many factors in the Midwest that technology cannot yet handle. Snow, ice and fog are three. In addition to pedestrians and bicyclists, we sometime share the road with deer, deer and more deer ... darting into roadways or stopping then, starting or just standing there in disbelief. (It's not a matter of if you hit a deer, it's a matter of when.)
And here in bluff country, there's the matter of incomplete and inaccurate mapping. Seemingly every electronic map out there has some Red Wing road or other running continuously instead of being interrupted by a 50-foot drop. If the car did what that computer voice tells you to do, you'd drive straight ... to your death.
There also are matters of infrastructure and traffic laws.
• Would every stop or yield sign need some kind of GPS marker?
• Sometimes motorists accidentally knock down a traffic sign, one is changed (from stop to yield, for example, or a sign is simply removed. How would a self-driving vehicle respond in such situations?
• Would we need slower speed limits?
• Road surfaces change
• Hey, watch out for that pothole!
• There also are the privacy issues. Big Brother will know where you go and when through that computer chip in your car.
• Sometimes computers fail.
• And what about computer hackers or hijackers?
The list goes on. We're not saying these things are insurmountable, but there are many unknowns.
Minnesota is taking a sensible, cautious approach to self-driving vehicles. Gov. Mark Dayton appointed a 15-member advisory council earlier this month to offer recommendations about how best to regulate the use of autonomous vehicles.
We encourage these individuals to slow down, take their time and look both ways.