Michigan's Governor Is Dead Wrong About Driverless Cars

In this July 20, 2015 file photo, a pedestrian crosses in front of a vehicle as part of a demonstration at Mcity, used to test driverless and connected vehicles, on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Photo: AP

Not that we should be surprised about Mister Flint having a poor grasp of public safety, but Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently spoke out on testing autonomous cars—something that’s relevant to his state—and he was completely and utterly wrong.

Michigan is starting up a training program for people to service autonomous cars, a kind of jobs program for our future without paid drivers, as the Financial Times reported today. In this article, the FT also cited some other choice quotes from Snyder, who is presumably trying to re-orient some of the driverless discussion away from states out west, where all of the startups do most of their testing.


Snyder’s takeaway from these testing programs, which have now gone from minor fender benders to a fatal crash, is that we just need to trust driverless carmakers. Trust them:

In a wide-ranging interview during his visit to the UK this weekend, Mr Snyder said that car companies testing autonomous vehicles should be “given the benefit of the doubt” with testing rules.

Should... they? I feel like they shouldn’t. In the aftermath of an Uber test car killing a woman, we found out that the company was wildly less safe than anyone thought, and the company knew it.

Snyder elaborated:

“If we’re going to draw the line, we should give them some benefit of the doubt because they’re aspiring to make things safer, not unsafer,” he said.

“To the degree they prove that, you can leave that where it is, to the degree they’re not being as responsible, that’s when we or the government should intervene to raise the bar.”

He declined to comment on the specifics of the Uber crash.

This is what gets me. Time and time again, we see more evidence that autonomous car development is not about safety as an absolute, but profit. All the blather about “safety” from corporations is often just blather.


These aren’t charities. They are companies fighting to be the one to serve you ads in your next taxi.


It would be easy to say that Snyder simply and unsurprisingly gets this wrong like he gets so much else wrong. But that gives him too much benefit of the doubt. You really can’t take this guy at face value, like he’s just being naive. Uber’s fatal crash was as much evidence as anyone needs that this industry is not at a “benefit of the doubt” stage.

He knows these cars will kill people, and he thinks that’s fine if it brings his state some money. This is how things went down when his buddies at Nestle made millions while Flint has been running off poisoned water. When he privatized the unemployment insurance agency and gave millions to private entities while screwing over Michigan’s poor. This autonomous car stance isn’t a fluke. This is how Snyder runs the state at the expense of its people.


Again, I shouldn’t be surprised by this attitude from Snyder, but here it is anyway.

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Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.