Chicago officials may ban autonomous cars

Bruce Brown
President Obama: Self-driving cars have the potential to change lives
Setting expectations for safety prior to the release of rules for self-driving cars, President Obama wrote an op-ed on the potential for improved lives. He also stressed the need for rules that will evolve as technology advances.

Chicago doesn’t want to be another Pittsburgh. The former Pennsylvania steel city hit the news this week when Uber started rolling self-driving cars in a pilot program. Two Chicago municipal elected officials subsequently decided they didn’t want that going on in their own city, according to SlashGear.

Councilmen Anthony Beale and Ed Burke submitted an ordinance proposal to ban self-driving cars from Chicago streets. If the ordinance passes, neither Uber or any other entity or person could even test self-driving cars within Chicago city limits. The law would apply whether or not a human was in the car acting as a monitor, supervisor, or emergency fallback. The ordinance calls for a $500 fine for violations.

Related: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is setting the standard for becoming a tech hub

The Chicago Tribute reported that the councilmen called their proposal a “preemptive strike” when they presented it at a City Council meeting. In a press release from the Chicago Committee on Finance, Councilman Burke said, “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. No technology is one-hundred percent safe.”

The proposed ordinance restricts people from operating autonomous vehicles on any city road. Autonomous technology is defined as any vehicle “… that has the capability to drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.”

A hearing date for the ordinance has not been scheduled. First, the proposal must be deliberated at a joint committee of Finance and Transportation, Finance Committee spokesperson Donal Quinlan told the Chicago Tribune.

Uber’s four Ford Fusions will have onboard supervisors. The Fords will be joined by a fleet of self-driving Volvos that will also have engineers in the car — one to take over driving if needed, the other to monitor and record data.

A bigger issue is the context in which the Pittsburgh testing is occurring. The steel industry has moved on from Pittsburgh and from the U.S.

Together with Carnegie Mellon University, the city of Pittsburgh is working to establish the city as a technology and innovation center. Pittsburgh’s plan is to attract businesses and startups to the area with the goal of creating jobs and improving the economy. The tech centers and research labs from large companies opening in and around Pittsburgh, in some cases embedded within Carnegie Mellon, are evidence that Pittsburgh’s plan appears to be working.

Support for self-driving technology is a high profile example of Pittsburgh’s greater plan. If the Chicago anti-autonomous car ordinance is passed, some may see that as an anti-technology signal, which likely would not benefit the city.