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TravelSafely Radio: Eric Tanenblatt

On a recent episode of Applied Information’s radio show, TravelSafely, CEO and host Bryan Mulligan spoke with guest Eric Tanenblatt, Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation with Dentons, the largest law firm in the world.

Tanenblatt also leads the firm’s US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

As one of the nation’s preeminent public policy thought leaders, he was able to offer a unique perspective on the future of autonomous vehicles and what regulatory action will be needed to ultimately move the technology onto our roads.

The complex regulatory environment

The government is facing some significant challenges with the rise of autonomous vehicles because, historically, federal laws regulate the vehicle, and state laws regulate the drivers. In autonomous vehicles, the vehicle is now the driver, creating an entirely different animal that will require new regulations.

Regulation always comes after the innovation. This is a fundamental issue around the role of not only the federal and state government, but also the city and county, in managing the road network. Addressing the problem actually encompasses all divisions of the government.

“The technology is moving so quickly that I’m not sure our policymakers are equipped to put the appropriate laws and regulations in place. That’s why I think the private sector can play a key role,” added Tanenblatt.

Companies like Whammo, one of the leaders in autonomous driving, have amassed millions and millions of miles of testing. Auto manufacturers, like Ford and General Motors, and ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, are also gathering data, a critical component of the process. When policymakers need to put laws and regulations in place, they’ll be able to make decisions based on a comprehensive compilation of data.

Vehicle electrification is leading the way

Electrification is leading the way to autonomous vehicles. Certain jurisdictions here in the United States, like Arizona and California, have welcomed electric vehicles. Not coincidentally, these same states have also been more open to testing autonomous vehicle technology than those states that have not shown an interest in electric vehicles. These early adopter states are at the forefront and will have a greater advantage over others.

In 2015, Georgia was number two in the country in terms of electric vehicles. Once the Georgia legislature repealed the electric vehicle tax credit, there was a 90% decline in the sale of electric vehicles. “It’s not just the tax credit,” said Mulligan. “ The tax credit was to stimulate the market, but now we need to play catch up and build the infrastructure so that people are more willing to go out and buy an electric vehicle.” As a state, we’re now behind the curve in autonomous vehicle testing.

The future of car ownership and insurance

Experts say that 95 percent of the time, most cars sit unused in a garage or a parking lot. In the case of ride-sharing fleets, cars will be on the road 95 percent of the time. Tanenblatt believes that over the next ten years, our society will gradually move towards ride-sharing fleets.

With this paradigm shift, children born today may never need to learn how to drive. If we move to a society that embraces electric vehicles and autonomous vehicle fleets, then the owner of the vehicle will be the fleet manager, not the individual.

The individual will no longer need to pay for insurance. Moreover, the fleet’s insurance costs should decline because, with computers talking to computers and cars talking to cars, there will be less room for human error.

Today’s biggest hurdle

One of the major challenges facing electric vehicles today is consumer hesitation. Drivers are concerned by the limited distance an electric vehicle can travel before it needs to be recharged and want to know if they’ll be able to find a charging station when they need one.

“The technology is new, and people have a fear of the unknown,” said Tanenblatt, an advocate for testing here in Georgia. The more people who see vehicles like the shuttles on North Avenue in action, the quicker they’ll believe that they really work.

Autonomous vehicles around the world

Looking around the world, China already has autonomous cars and trucks on the road. Tanenblatt says that Germany is also making strides. Singapore was the first country where, two years ago, a company out of Cambridge, Massachusetts began testing autonomous taxis. The same company is now testing them in the United States.

Countries with the right resources and technological know-how are the ones testing the vehicles and the technology first. It’ll be a competition as to who will get there first. Georgia may not be on the list of early adopters yet, but Mulligan says “we’re working hard to get it there.”

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