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September 16 2016

Chicago Lawmakers Trying to Put Brakes on Driverless Cars

Patrice L. Onwuka

Uber’s self-driving cars hit the road yesterday in Pittsburgh and that has lawmakers 460 miles away in Chicago nervous. So nervous they made a pre-emptive strike against the new technology coming to their city limits.

On the day Uber launched its test of autonomous cars, two Chicago alderman introduced an ordinance banning driverless cars in the city. The ordinance bans operating a vehicle with “autonomous technology” which they define as any technology with the capability to drive a vehicle without a person actively physically controlling or monitoring it.

Violators of the ordinance face a $500 penalty for each offense, which would rack up quickly against companies like Uber which has a fleet of Ford Fusions on the roads in tests.

The aldermen claim they are concerned about driver safety and pedestrian safety and point to the death  of an Ohio man killed in Florida in a collision between his self-driving Tesla and a tractor-trailer. In a press release one noted:

"We do not want the streets of Chicago to be used as an experiment that will no doubt come with its share of risks, especially for pedestrians," Burke said in the news release. "No technology is 100 percent safe."

However, the pair of lawmakers apparently have a track record for stopping innovation and competition in the transportation industry. Their ties to the taxicab industry and their efforts to shield them from competitions suggest their motives may be otherwise.

The Illinois Policy Institute pulled back the covers on the alderman’s cozy connections to the taxicab industry:

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 awatered-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.

Leave it to protectionists with special interest connections to head off new competition. These two have done it before with ridesharing companies in general, like Uber and Lyft. It’s no surprise that they are doing it again.

This is such as stark contrast to Pittsburgh. We reported that the mayor of Pittsburgh is fully embracing driverless technology because he sees the economic opportunity and transformation that being friendly to new startups can bring to his city.

Lawmakers should not use their power to stifle innovation but encourage it. To better refine the technology, developers need some runway to experiment, rework, and retool what’s not working. That’s where cities can play a role.

Granted, driverless technology is in its infant stages and, based on the experiences of Uber passengers this week who experienced many sudden braking, it has kinks to be worked out. Furthermore, the safety concerns are very real. But driverless cars very well may be the way of the future. Car manufacturers have been incorporating the technology into new vehicles for some time.

It’s a matter of years before vehicles will be shuttling humans and cargo around without a driver. And, by hook or crook, technology will find a way to make lives better operate with or without government permission.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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