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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you can pass a driver's test, you can get an operator's license. But there is no corresponding test for autonomous vehicles.

Why it matters: Unless Congress acts, it'll be up to tech companies and carmakers — not the government — to determine when self-driving cars are safe for public roads. "Just trust us" isn't a viable answer to earn public acceptance.

What's happening: One self-driving tech company, Aurora, argues that publicly sharing its work — through a series of layered safety claims along with detailed evidence to back up each one — is the best way to determine when the technology is safe.

  • This "safety case framework" is a structured argument that gives engineers a roadmap for developing the tech while also offering much-needed transparency to the public.
  • "It's like saying you're going to climb a mountain, but you don’t know how high the mountain is or how many steps it will take to get there," explains Nat Beuse, Aurora's vice president of safety. "The safety case tells us how high it is and how many steps it will take to make the ascent."

Between the lines: The approach is also more meaningful, Beuse says, than other proxies for AV safety, such as counting how many times a backup safety driver had to take control during testing (California's so-called "disengagement reports") or how many millions of road miles an AV developer logs (the basis for Waymo's leadership claim).

Of note: Beuse, a former official at the U.S. Department of Transportation, was instrumental in establishing a new approach toward safety at Uber's autonomous vehicle unit after one of its self-driving cars killed a pedestrian in 2018.

  • Aurora acquired the Uber unit in January.
  • Other industries, including aviation, nuclear and medical, also use a safety case-based approach to assess their performance.

Go deeper: Explore Aurora's interactive framework here and an explanation of how it works here.

Go deeper

John Frank, author of Denver
Sep 16, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado attorney general is now the top cop for police misconduct

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, left, and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson face pressure amid new state investigation. Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

The Colorado attorney general is demanding the Aurora Police Department overhaul its entire operation after a damning investigation found prevalent racism, excessive force and other illegal practices within the agency.

Why it matters: The first-of-its-kind order, announced Wednesday, is possible thanks to a far-reaching police accountability measure that expanded the attorney general's powers to investigate practices within local law enforcement agencies.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
8 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Mary Altaffer - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that his country "will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad" and plans to boost support for clean energy in developing nations.

Why it matters: The pledge, if maintained, would mark a breakthrough in efforts to transition global power away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.

House Democrats strip Iron Dome money from government funding bill

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats on Tuesday stripped $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system from its short-term government funding bill after backlash from progressives, people familiar with the decision tell Axios.

Why it matters: There has never a situation where military aid for Israel was held up because of objections from members of Congress. While the funding will get a vote in its current defense bill, the clash underscores the deep divisions within the Democratic party over Israel.