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White House Weighs In On "Google' Cars

Publication Date: 
July 17, 2013
The Wall Street Journal - CIO Journal
Steve Rosenbush

Bryant Walker Smith, lecturer in law and fellow at the Center for Internet and Society, spoke with Steve Rosenbush of the The Wall Street Journal - CIO Journal on the prospect of automated cars and how the new technology could affect insurance and liability.

The prospect of automated cars is a hot topic in the White House, where policymakers believe the technology could have broad impact on public safety, the environment and economic growth. “There is no room in the White House big enough to house all the people interested in this issue,” says R. David Edelman, senior advisor in the White House office of science and technology policy. On Tuesday, he told an audience of 300 planners and engineers that in almost every area of policy, the technology "has the potential to impact… much more than just transportation."

The technology is gaining momentum thanks to significant investments from Google Inc. , and major R&D investments by automakers such as General Motors Co Ford Motor Co. BMW , and Audi. Now, policymakers are racing to get a handle on the myriad, complex issues raised by the technology. Some policymakers and auto industry executives are hoping to slow the pace of product development until regulations and public perception catch up—a pressure that even Google can feel. For regulators, major improvements in public safety and energy efficiency are at stake. And for the car companies, their business model could be threatened by tech companies such as Google, which has already shown how quickly it can disrupt an industry, to the chagrin of established telecommunications companies.


- Insurance and liability: Will liability shift from drivers to car makers? Mr. Edelman says that auto insurance rates "should drop dramatically for everyone who [buys] a car with full autonomy." But in return for assuming greater liability, car makers may want to move from a sales model to a lease model, or transportation as a service, according to Bryant Walker Smith of Stanford Law School, the co-chairman of the meeting.


CORRECTION–This story has been updated to clarify a statement by White House advisor R. David Edelman, who said "There is no room in the White House big enough to house all the people interested in this issue." An earlier version of this story referred to people working on the issue. The title of Bryant Walker Smith has been clarified. He is the co-chairman of the automated car workshop.