Chicago aldermen propose ban on driverless cars
September 15, 2016

Chicago aldermen propose ban on driverless cars

A new ordinance would ban all cars with autonomous technology from Chicago, preventing Uber from expanding the fleet of self-driving vehicles it recently introduced in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Aldermen Ed Burke, 14th Ward, and Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, on Sept. 14 introduced a measure to ban driverless cars in the city. The proposed ordinance is in response to Uber’s introduction of driverless cars in Pittsburgh, which began operating Sept. 14.

In a press release, Burke claimed the measure is aimed at preventing Chicago streets from being used as an “experiment” that poses risks, “especially for pedestrians.” The release references the May 7 death of Joshua Brown, the Ohio man who was killed in Florida in a collision between his self-driving Tesla and a tractor-trailer.

Under the ordinance, operating a vehicle outfitted with “autonomous technology” –defined as “technology that has the capability to drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator” – carries a fine of $500 per occurrence.

The ban applies to all drivers in Chicago, but rideshare companies such as Uber are the likeliest source of driverless cars in the city. (Although the cars have autonomous capability, in the Pittsburgh rollout, Uber actually has a driver and an engineer in each self-driving car to operate the car at certain times.)

The driverless-car ban is ostensibly about safety in the wake of the nation’s first self-driving fatality. But if aldermen are concerned about driver safety, they should be seeking to harness the benefits of autonomous driving technology.

As the RAND Corporation noted in an April study, “autonomous 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 study recommended that policymakers seek to establish regulations that can evolve with this new technology. In other words, the opposite of what Burke and Beale are proposing.

But these two aldermen have a history of stifling innovation when it comes to transportation, and Burke has longstanding ties to the taxicab industry, which stands to benefit from the hobbling of its rideshare competitors.

In 2014, Beale and Burke sponsored a measure that would have banned rideshare operators such as Uber and Lyft from operating in Chicago. In fall 2015, the two aldermen supported imposing new taxes on rideshare companies as a condition of allowing rideshare drivers to pick up passengers at O’Hare and Midway airports and McCormick Place and Navy Pier. Burke also supported requiring rideshare drivers to obtain expensive chauffeur’s licenses, which Beale pushed in City Council in June. The ordinance passed, albeit in a watered-down version that postponed the fingerprinting requirement Beale had sought and loosened some of the chauffeur’s license provisions.

Illinois State Board of Elections records show Chicago aldermen took over $50,000 from the taxicab industry’s Illinois Transportation Trade Association Political Action Committee in 2015. Beale accepted $10,000 from the group in 2015 and 2016, and Burke took $10,000 in 2015. Burke’s law firm has also done legal work for Yellow Cab.

Banning driverless cars to shield the taxicab industry from competition is bad for Chicago. It restricts the operations of rideshare companies that have provided needed employment to Chicago residents. It suppresses the development of technology, which is an industry that creates well-paying jobs Mayor Rahm Emanuel has claimed the city welcomes. It limits the use of an environmentally friendly transportation system. And it stamps out a potentially convenient and much safer way of getting around, which would be a great boon to residents who lack cars or who, like many elderly people, do not drive.

Indeed, Beale and Burke’s ordinance looks like a protective measure – they are protecting the special interests of the taxicab industry, at the expense of ordinary Chicagoans.

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