There are many reasons people aren’t able to drive cars. Visual impairment. Trauma. Advanced age. And the list goes on. And every time Allison Drutchas ’11 meets someone who can’t or doesn’t drive for one reason or another, she writes down his or her name. This list reminds her how her work can change lives.
“If this is something we can change, we should change it,” said Drutchas, who has long been an evangelist for self-driving cars.
“For years, I would tell anyone who would listen about self-driving cars,” she said. “When I was interning at firms during law school, people would ask us all what kind of law we were interested in, and other students would say litigation or whatever else. I would say autonomous vehicles.”
Drutchas serves as Autonomous Vehicles Counsel at General Motors in her hometown of Detroit, examining and shaping the legal landscape for the age of autonomous vehicles. The sixth generation Michigander and Yale Law alumna always planned on returning home to make a difference, and she is inspired by the auto industry and the Silicon Valley partnering in this cutting-edge conversation.
“Every law that affects cars assumes there will be a human driver,” she said. “My job is to see how these laws need to change to enable this shift. For a lawyer at this time in this space, it’s the big bang—the moment where the law is starting its revolution. For there to be transformational benefits to society, it has to be permitted under the law.”
Bringing unprecedented freedom to people is only one piece of the puzzle. There is the potential for reducing greenhouse gasses, alleviating congestion, reimagining public space currently used for parking and improving life on the road–relaxing instead of focusing on traffic, for example. Federal studies show 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error or behavior, so if a computer drives the car, it could save a lot of lives.
Drutchas, recognized on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for Law and Policy (Class of 2018), faces a lot of questions never answered before, and the curiosity and confidence required to do her job well are qualities honed at Davidson. The freshman who started most questions with “This may be stupid, but…” worked each year toward self-assurance.
“I studied philosophy, and I discovered that philosophers were brave,” she said. “They tackle the biggest questions in the universe. I learned to internalize confidence to answer questions, just the way the philosophers I was reading about had to do.”
Confidence also came in the form of soccer success for the Bryan Scholar who helped her team make it to the NCAA tournament junior year.
“That season, we had a really weak start, and we had to know we were good enough to win,” she said. “I carry that with me—a little bit of swagger, but mostly confidence. I also loved that athletes were expected to excel in the classroom like everyone else. It showed me that Davidson saw me the way I saw myself–as more than a soccer player.”
Looking ahead, it’s impossible to predict the future of autonomous vehicles, but Drutchas is optimistic and hopeful.
“I hope we see autonomous vehicles proliferating around the country,” she said. “And I’d love to see more openness and excitement around some of what I think is most important–preventing crashes and providing mobility to people who don’t already have it. Those are the things that inspire me at the highest level.”
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