Cautious Optimism: Driverless Cars Get the Yellow Light

  • June 14, 2013
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The NHTSA logo. It's dominated by the letters NHTSA in bold capital blue letters under a row of five red stars. Under the letters, there is a narrow black highway. Under the highway, the url "" is written in red text.
      On May 30th, The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rolled out recommendations regarding driverless cars. The move signals that a technology that was once a science fiction fantasy is now real enough to require regulation from offices like the NHTSA. A 2011 New York Times article predicted this development, explaining that “the technology is now advancing so quickly that it is in danger of outstripping existing law.” The time has come for regulations to catch up with rapidly advancing technology.

      Companies like Google have been intensely testing driverless car technology with positive results. This widely circulated video demonstrates the exciting possibilities driverless cars offer to those with mobility or vision impairments.

The image is taken from the backseat of the car. In the driver's seat of the car sits an older gentleman wearing an olive green beret and dark sunglasses. He looks off to the passenger's side of the vehicle while smiling and holding his hands in the air, away from the car's steering wheel.Steve Mahan, a man with a visual impairment, test “drives” Google’s driverless car.

Will driverless cars get the green light? Those who would benefit from a driverless car—especially people with mobility concerns—have reason for hope.  The introduction of these recommendations is a sign the NHTSA feels that driverless cars may soon be hitting the road.  However, obstacles remain. As with most developing technology, prohibitive cost currently represents a roadblock to widespread public use. Additionally, while the NHTSA acknowledges that driverless technology has arrived, it has “concerns…about detailed state regulation on safety of self-driving vehicles, and does not recommend at this time that states permit operation of self-driving vehicles for purposes other than testing.”

      Despite these concerns, many in the tech world project that in the next ten years driverless cars will get the green light, opening the roads to a slew of new drivers. At Life Labs, we see driverless cars as an exciting example of how technology can increase independence and lead to a life without limits.  



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