Gingrich: Self-driving cars will catch on

Former House Speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) predicts in a new book that self-driving cars will soon become popular in the United States.

In his new book, Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America's Fate, Gingrich refers to autonomous cars as "the greatest breakthrough in automobiles since the internal combustion engine."

Gingrich praises Google for working to develop self-driving technology "essentially as a side project" and argues that now, "the legacy car companies are racing to keep up."

"Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Audi and Volvo have all demonstrated prototype self-driving cars of some capacity, although none seems to have matched Google's performance," the former Speaker wrote. "One thing is certain: now that [Google Vice President Sebastian] Thrun and his fellow pioneers have created the technology, Americans are going to want it — from whatever manufacturer can provide."

Lawmakers have already began considering how they might regulate self-driving cars. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) called them "the future of transportation" after conducting a test drive in September.

But Gingrich argued in his book that regulations could put the brakes on the mass development of the technology. 

"Google engineers today are commuting to work in self-driving cars," he wrote. "Theoretically we could all start using them by 2020, but that almost certainly won't happen. The technological challenge of designing Priuses that drive themselves pales in comparison with the legal slog it will take to clear the way for their use."
Gingrich said the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) "has expanded over the years, and now it pursues a muddled, often conflicting set of priorities that have dramatically changed American cars, not always for the better.

"The irony is that the regulatory agency that was supposed to ensure passenger safety now demands that 'we put people in very light-weight cars' to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy, 'which means cars that we know are less safe. It’s funny how we’ve come full circle,'" Gingrich wrote.

"This mission creep has left the prison guards with the power to control almost every aspect of Americans’ automobiles," Gingrich wrote.

"NHTSA now sets so many rules and tests that there is only one way to meet them. All new cars on the road 'pretty much start fitting in the same box,' [former Chrysler Assistant General Counsel Robert] Norton says. 'You hear most of the lay people say, ‘Gee, they all look so much alike these days.’ Well, that’s why. They’re matching the government recipe.' The regulators have slowed automotive innovation to a crawl."