Autonomous vehicles are being tested all over the world these days. Yet in the U.S., the government still does not insist that these unproven prototypes conform to the same rules and regulations as production vehicles when placed on public streets for testing.
I have no quarrel with manufacturers doing whatever they want with any sort of vehicle on private proving grounds. Heck, they have been using proving grounds for decades to test new technology for their vehicles. That is why proving grounds were created.
But when they use streets and roads that I am sharing, the test vehicles should conform to the same safety standards my vehicle conforms to.
Though maybe I worry unnecessarily. Several decades ago, factories introduced the ignition interlock to placate Washington regulators.
The interlocks required seat belts to be fastened before a vehicle could start. There was such a public outcry that Congress passed laws to get rid of this hated device.
As I recall, ignition interlocks were the idea of Ford Motor Co. President Lee Iacocca. Well, Ford is at it again, announcing plans to start testing autonomous vehicles on the streets of our nation's capital.
All it will take is for a single test vehicle to become involved in some sort of accident right there in Washington, and Congress will mandate that all test vehicles adhere to all existing safety standards.
So, Ford may be doing a public service by testing in D.C. At the rate of testing taking place among all manufacturers, it won't be long before an autonomous vehicle malfunctions right in front of a Congress member. My guess is that bills will be introduced and passed within six months.
I have never understood why car makers simply do not use their own private proving grounds.
Still, it won't matter if Congress gets involved. They'll have to.
Washington officials have been wrong not to mandate these standards for autonomous vehicles, and soon, I'm afraid, they will understand why they were wrong.
Mr. Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Tire Business, and is editor-in-chief of Detroit-based Automotive News.