Today, the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on "How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape the Future of Surface Transportation." This hearing is the first time Congress has seriously addressed autonomous vehicles, and many observers were rightly worried that political interest from Congress might lead to unnecessary economic intervention.
Fortunately, the majority of the questions from members of Congress were reasonable, and the witnesses were largely able to explain away concerns and emphasize the need for regulatory caution.
There were some notable exceptions to this rule. In his questioning, Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., expressed concern that highly automated or autonomous vehicles would be so technologically advanced that any repair would need to be conducted by highly trained engineers employed by manufacturers, thereby putting mom-and-pop auto shops out of business -- something like that, anyway.
"I think that's just going to put people out of work," Sires told the panel. "You're going to have to send these cars back to the shop. I can't see anybody doing work on these things. I mean, you have to be so sophisticated. And I guess that's where we're headed. So can anybody tell me if we're going to put people out of work?"
After receiving answers from the panelists -- who somehow managed to stop themselves from bursting out laughing -- Sires wrapped up his questioning with, "This is very exciting, the more I read about it. But it's just scary to me."
What scares me is lawmakers like Sires. First, he apparently believes parts will no longer wear out in the future. While auto mechanics may need additional specialized training, regular service will still be required and will still rely heavily on auto shop repairs (think maintenance related to the vehicle's suspension, internal combustion powertrain, climate control, etc.).
Second, and most importantly, is the possibility of auto mechanics doing fewer repairs on autonomous vehicles in the future even a legitimate public policy concern? Should government have also taken positions on ex-occupations that technology has rendered obsolete, such as icemen, typesetters, lamplighters, elevator operators, and pinsetters at bowling alleys? Those who recognize the importance and value of creative destruction would say no:
As I've noted before, the future appears bright for autonomous vehicles -- provided busybody politicians and bureaucrats stay out of the way. If policy makers wish to promote vehicle automation innovation, they should focus on repealing and preventing the promulgation of unnecessary, burdensome regulations.