Interview: Catherine McCullough, Executive Director, Intelligent Car Coalition

Set up in May 2013, the Intelligent Car Coalition (ICC) is a non-profit consumer advocacy and education organisation

Set up in May 2013, the Intelligent Car Coalition (ICC) is a non-profit consumer advocacy and education organisation. With founding members such as Intel, Verizon and AT&T, the ICC will attempt to engage US policy discussions on the intelligent vehicle; driving improvements on issues such as data privacy and security, liability, research and development and distracted driving.

Here ICC Executive Director Catherine McCullough talks to Ruth Dawson about regulating in-car connectivity

What is the Intelligent Car Coalition setting out to do?
Our mission statement is ‘to advocate for public policies that bring the benefits of innovation at the intersection of automotive and communications technologies to consumers, and promote safety, mobility, and transportation efficiency on our nation’s roads and highways’.

In practice, that means we want to work with all stakeholders in the transportation and tech sectors to figure out what it means for our policy framework now that these two industries are merging. We believe that the quickly-evolving innovations in intelligent cars have great potential to benefit society, and we want to be part of the dialogue to help ensure that these breakthroughs are able to fulfill their promise.

What do you define as an intelligent car?
There are several terms used to describe this developing space, and some of them mean different things to different people. For instance, some think of connected cars as those that connect to other entities – such as applications – via smartphones. Others think of connected cars as those that use a signal emanating from the car itself, or a device in the car, to communicate with other vehicles or infrastructure. There are also autonomous vehicles – in which some or all of the vehicle’s capabilities are fulfilled by the car itself without human interaction. These driverless cars are capable of sensing the vehicle’s surroundings and navigating without human input.

We chose the word ‘intelligent’ because we see promise in all of these technologies. Indeed, intelligent cars are using advanced and cutting edge technologies to create a new and better vision for the future of driving.

What is needed to take the connected car (a smartphone integrated vehicle) up to the next level of the intelligent car?
There are many intelligent car technologies entering the marketplace – and at a rapid pace. Their appearance is good news for consumers, because we are seeing the beginning of a new era when intelligent technologies will save us time, fuel, money and, most importantly, lives.

The US government is tasked with making sure consumers gain the benefits of these emerging technologies. However, some of the regulatory tools the government has been given by Congress many years ago weren’t designed to work in a quickly-evolving technology space.

We think that if all stakeholders – industry, government, consumers – got together and collaboratively engage on policy questions surrounding these technologies, consumers will be able to gain these benefits much sooner.

Why do we need specific regulation for the intelligent car?
We may or may not need regulation. Guidelines, ratings, and voluntary industry solutions often can be as effective, or more effective, than regulation at achieving a policy goal, while also enabling the innovation and competition that promotes the best products for consumers and society. This is the balance that our nation’s policymakers face.

Government and industry want consumers to feel safe and reap all of the amazing benefits of intelligent car technologies. Multi-stakeholder models for developing approaches to address policy issues provide great public policy processes for these quickly-developing technologies, technology patterns, the differences in technologies and how technologies interact with each other.

We believe that instead of dictating how any one technology should work, or picking one technological solution over another, stakeholders and decision-makers should consider safety and other policy goals that can guide stakeholders as they build technology solutions.

As it becomes more of a reality, what areas of regulation will be required? Which is the most important?
Safety, privacy, security and other issues are already on the US government’s agenda. In fact, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) just completed a successful multi-stakeholder process that resolved privacy issues around mobile apps.

As intelligent vehicle issues are considered, we hope that the government will continue to rely on such multi-stakeholder models that allow consumers, industry and government to realise outcomes that enhance consumer safety and meet other policy goals, while at the same time allowing for innovation and consumer choice. In some cases regulation may be the right answer, in other cases, it may not.

What would you say to those critics who have suggested that regulating the intelligent car so early on can stifle creativity?
Premature regulation certainly has the potential for that negative impact. More importantly, approaches that dictate how each technology works may impact safety and other policy goals negatively; for instance, failing to account for – or slowing the development of – new safety innovations could remove the incentive for companies to compete and therefore the introduction of the best technologies for consumers and society.

When premature regulation thwarts the incentive for industry to develop solutions for a policy challenge, it can negatively impact everyone’s goals. That’s a shame because, with technology, fixes can often be engineered relatively quickly – typically outpacing regulation.

That’s why we think it makes sense for a multi-stakeholder process to set performance goal-oriented approaches. This encourages the development of multiple technology solutions for safety and other policy issues that are created through innovation and competition. When multiple technology solutions meet safety and other policy goals, it benefits consumers and society at large.

Ruth Dawson