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Chicago City Council might ban autonomous cars

Their reasoning, of course, involves thinking of the children.

Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Leave it to Chicago to do the exact opposite of every other city in the US. Just when other cities are voting to embrace autonomous car development with open arms, Chicago's City Council could very well ban the things.

Chicago aldermen Ed Burke and Anthony Beale proposed an ordinance that would ban autonomous car development in Chicago's city limits, the Chicago Tribune reports. It defined autonomy as tech that allows a vehicle to drive without a human operator's control or monitoring. A $500 fine would be levied upon violators.

"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 a press release. "No technology is one-hundred percent safe." There's no set date for when this proposal will make its way to committee.

Several automakers, as well as ride-sharing giant Uber, have started testing autonomous vehicles on city roads. Uber's fleet of self-driving cars is in Pittsburgh, while most others are testing self-driving cars in California and other states west of the Rockies. Michigan is hoping to expand autonomous-car testing in the near future, as well. And then there's Chicago.

Thankfully, the "monitoring" language in the ordinance seems to permit semi-autonomous systems like Tesla's Autopilot or Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot, so it's not like Tesla drivers have to worry about using Autopilot on I-90 or Lake Shore Drive, both of which are within city limits.

What's most concerning is that the proposed ordinance states, per the Tribune, "that no person should operate autonomous vehicles on any road." What happens when the cars go on sale? Would the city uphold its ban under some false impression that humans are more capable than software designed for this sole task? Ideally, this would relate solely to development of these systems, but it appears the language is instead a carpet ban on all autonomous vehicles.

The Chicago-born cynic in me sees this as nothing but a Chicago Machine shakedown, a refusal to allow such testing within city limits unless the cars come from their billionaire owners with piles of cash atop the hood. A quick read of Ed Burke's Wikipedia page should raise those flags for most people. Chicago's taxi lobby is particularly strong, which could be playing a part here, given Uber's investments in autonomy.

Safety is important, yes, but thorough reporting of Google's self-driving car development shows that it is already at or above the level of most humans.

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