In any family, there is always one parent who is the stickler for safety. The other one lets their toddler juggle knives.

Broadly speaking, that tension between the hoverer and the risk-taker can be good for kids, who learn to stay within guardrails but also get to learn from painful mistakes.

But there’s a clear line between laissez faire parenting and neglect. And the government’s recent regulatory guidance on self-driving cars, which are in the toddler stage, makes us want to reach for the phone and call child protective services.

Last week, the Transportation Department issued a policy statement called “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety.” Whatever else it says, there’s one line no company will ignore: “This guidance is entirely voluntary, with no compliance requirement or enforcement mechanism.”

Meaning: If you’re a tech startup getting into self-driving cars, and you want to use the policy statement solely as liner for a birdcage, no one can stop you.

Too much regulation on a nascent industry could indeed suffocate development. But a completely hands-off approach will turn drivers on public roads into unwitting lab rats, and it could result in fatalities. If people get hurt by companies that have overhyped their technology or failed to put proper safety systems in place — and this risk is real — consumers will turn against self-driving cars in force. And that will stifle innovation more definitively than any regulation ever could.

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