Burke to the future: Chicago alderman wants to ban self-driving cars

Burke to the future: Chicago alderman wants to ban self-driving cars

Alderman Ed Burke argued in favor of a ban on driverless cars with a movie clip from “Back to the Future.”

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward, is on a mission to stop self-driving cars from coming to the Windy City. Burke made his case to a joint session of the Chicago City Council’s Finance and Transportation and Public Way committees on Aug. 21, according to DNAinfo.

The longtime alderman and attorney showed a clip from the 1985 science fiction film “Back to the Future,” in which a character invents a car that can travel through time.

DNAinfo explains that in order to drive home his point about the reckless use of cars, Burke stated, “There is nothing preventing someone from doing the same thing, because there is no law.”

Echoing Burke’s wariness was Alderman Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, who raised concerns about the possible jobs lost due to driverless vehicles.

“This will be a job killer,” Beale said, according to DNAinfo. “We need to move forward in a professional manner that protects public safety.”

This is not the first time Burke and Beale have moved against self-driving cars and other technological innovation. In 2016, the duo proposed a citywide ban on all cars with autonomous technology, defined in the ordinance as “technology that has the capability to drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.”

In 2014, Burke and Beale proposed an ordinance to prohibit ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft from operating in Chicago. After the would-be ban failed, the aldermen proposed new taxes and regulations on ridesharing operators, including requiring drivers to obtain chauffeur’s licenses.

However, more may be motivating Burke and Beale than simply technophobia. Both aldermen have taken thousands of dollars in campaign donations from taxicab industry groups such as the Illinois Transportation Trade Association Political Action Committee. And Burke’s law firm, Klafter & Burke, has done legal work in the past for Yellow Cab, which touts itself as North America’s largest and oldest taxicab company.

The backward proposal to ban self-driving cars in Chicago comes just as Michigan is getting ready for a new investment by Foxconn Technology Group. Foxconn, a Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, is considering building a new research and development facility in the Wolverine State, according to the South China Morning Post. The South China Morning Post reported the facility would specialize in autonomous vehicles.

Proposals like those introduced by Burke and Beale do nothing to help Illinois’ image as a pro-innovation state.

Rather than attempting to gin up fear about driverless cars by showing movie clips featuring time travelers, Burke should learn more about the technology he’s trying to ban. A 2016 study by the RAND Corporation states, “[A]utonomous vehicles are never drunk, distracted, or tired; these factors are involved in 41 percent, 10 percent, and 2.5 percent of all fatal crashes, respectively.”

The technology’s track record has also shown positive results. Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car program, has logged more than 2 million miles on American roads and in that time has only had fault in one accident, according to HuffPost.

Not only does preliminary evidence suggest self-driving technology is safe, but it also may be hitting streets regardless of any prohibitions cooked up by Burke and Beale.

A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting Group estimates that up to 25 percent of U.S. driving could be conducted by driverless vehicles by 2030, according to TechCrunch. The factors motivating this move would be cost savings by urban drivers and easing congestion in city streets.

But even if Burke and Beale were to ignore changing market conditions and implement a ban on driverless vehicles, a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly might stop the citywide proposal before it even starts.

House Bill 791 would prohibit units of local government, including home rule units, from banning the use of vehicles equipped with automated driving systems.

HB 791 was filed by state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, and passed both chambers of the General Assembly with bipartisan support. Not one state representative or state senator voted against the bill. HB 791 now sits on the governor’s desk.

Burke and Beale should drop their ban proposal and stop trying to run away from the future.

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