Momentum can be a phenomenon that cuts both ways. On the good side, it can carry a promising technology over the finish line if the right parties put the proper support behind it.
On the flip side, momentum can cause a premise to spiral out of control and be pushed ahead at a far faster pace than is prudent or responsible. That may be the case with autonomous driving vehicles.
With high-tech giants like Tesla and Google pushing self-driving technologies, many of the traditional auto manufacturers began programs or formed alliances so as not to fall behind. Suddenly Silicon Valley became the hub for the development of what many view as the future of mobility.
Before long, talk about the future started sounding as if autonomous vehicles becoming the primary mode of transportation was inevitable, and the timetable for adoption became sooner rather than later. And with so much on the line, the stakeholders may have gotten ahead of themselves.
When it comes to transportation, safety must always be the top priority. While many predict that self-driving vehicles will cut accidents drastically, more advancements are needed to make this a reality.
Testing facilities can only mimic real-world conditions to a certain degree, but that shouldn't cause the players to skip steps and begin testing self-driving vehicles in live conditions before the technology is ready. The recent fatal accident involving a driverless Uber vehicle that hit a pedestrian brings that reality into focus, and will bring legislators and regulators to action.
This seems to be a situation where the technology was moving at a pace government couldn't match. The Department of Transportation released guidelines for vehicle makers, but they aren't mandatory. One piece of legislation under consideration would allow manufacturers to bypass federal safety standards to deploy tens of thousands of autonomous vehicles.
One Toyota executive had it right when he said regulations must be developed alongside the technology, not afterward. For technology that most don't trust yet, that's the proper course. Take a step back, move forward cautiously, and—most importantly—get it right.