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 Anarchy in action: Where Self-Driving Cars Go to Learn

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PostSubject: Anarchy in action: Where Self-Driving Cars Go to Learn   Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:47 am

Arizona’s promise to keep the driverless car industry free of regulations has attracted dozens of companies, including Uber, Waymo and Lyft.

Three weeks into his new job as Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey made a move that won over Silicon Valley and paved the way for his state to become a driverless car utopia.

It was January 2015 and the Phoenix area was about to host the Super Bowl. Mr. Ducey learned that a local regulator was planning a sting on Lyft and Uber drivers to shut down the ride-hailing services for operating illegally. Mr. Ducey, a Republican who was the former chief executive of the ice cream chain Cold Stone Creamery, was furious.

“It was the exact opposite message we should have been sending,” Mr. Ducey said in an interview. “We needed our message to Uber, Lyft and other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to be that Arizona was open to new ideas.” If the state had a slogan, he added, it would include the words “open for business.”

Mr. Ducey fired the regulator who hatched the idea of going after ride-hailing drivers and shut down the entire agency, the Department of Weights and Measures. By April 2015, Arizona had legalized ride-sharing.

Arizona has since built upon the governor’s action to become a favored partner for the tech industry, turning itself into a live laboratory for self-driving vehicles. Over the past two years, Arizona deliberately cultivated a rules-free environment for driverless cars, unlike dozens of other states that have enacted autonomous vehicle regulations over safety, taxes and insurance.

Arizona took its anything-goes approach while federal regulators delayed formulating an overarching set of self-driving car standards, leaving a gap for states. The federal government is only now poised to create its first law for autonomous vehicles; the law, which echoes Arizona’s stance, would let hundreds of thousands of them be deployed within a few years and would restrict states from putting up hurdles for the industry.
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“We are in the Wild West phase of autonomous vehicles, where companies are looking for the state with the least amount of sheriffing going on,” said Henry Jasny, senior vice president at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a nonprofit based in Washington.

The payoff for Arizona has been a tech boom, with dozens of autonomous vehicle companies flocking here to set up operations. Every day, Waymo, the driverless car business owned by Google’s corporate parent Alphabet, as well as Uber, Lyft, General Motors and Intel now deploy hundreds of cars that drive themselves on the streets of Phoenix, a sprawling metropolis of 1.4 million people.

Some companies have pushed boundaries by conducting first-of-its-kind experiments in the state. Waymo announced this past week that it had begun testing self-driving cars in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler without an employee at the wheel to take over in an emergency. Until then, all driverless car trials had a human driver in the front seat, just in case. Uber said it was also exploring similar tests, with employees moving to the back seat.

But Arizona’s permissiveness has drawn criticism from safety advocates who said the companies have too much freedom to conduct their trials on public roads. They said car companies and state officials have not solved questions about the privacy of passengers, the prevention of cyberattacks on autonomous cars, and how to insure vehicles that don’t have a driver.

“It’s open season on other Arizona drivers and pedestrians,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a nonprofit that has pushed for stronger state and federal rules. “There is a complete and utter vacuum on safety.”
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