California and Google Cars

Feel the need to talk of text and drive? Need to find a way home from the bar and can’t find a taxi? California may soon be changing the law to make those and other activities both legal and safe. The primary reason certain activities are illegal is they impair the ability of the driver to pay attention while behind the wheel. Google has been the leader in self-driving cars, and California is the third jurisdiction following Nevada and Florida,  to consider giving this technology a green light, a move that is being pushed by Google.

The company has driven away with robotic car technology, so to speak. Google has a dozen of these cars and for the past few years, they’ve been testing and tweaking them. “The vehicles have been on highways, in congested urban streets. We’ve been down curvy roads including over the Santa Cruz Mountains,” she says.

Someone’s been in the driver’s seat for all those test drives, just in case. But the cars are in sort of a legal gray area. “No state in the country built rules of the road with the idea that autos would be able to operate without a driver behind the wheel. So we want to help establish these parameters,” says Miller.

Google argues that this technology will inherently make driving safer as being distracted will no longer be the cause of many crashes. There are several issues, besides the technology itself, that need to be resolved.

  1. Litigation—as in every instance, there will be problems that will result in litigation. This one will need to play out on it’s own. Some individuals and lawyers are eager to go for the gold and case law around law suits are the most likely method for sorting this out.
  2. Acceptable risk parameters—what will be the acceptable risk allowance? This will be a part of the litigation process. Driverless cars will be expected to perform to a certain standard. Determining this standard will need to be developed through a combination of legislation and litigation, and will be continually evolving as technology advances.
  3. Privacy—how much information should be retained by the car? These vehicles will need to be constantly linked to GPS and other systems that can pinpoint there location. Privacy advocates have genuine concerns around the gathering and retention of this information.
  4. Moral choices and relative risk—what happens when a decision must be made when avoiding one obstacle means striking another. For example, a oncoming vehicle is approaching in your lane and hitting a guardrail or going over a cliff is the only possible alternative. Or even more critical, the similar choices face missing a pedestrian. These are also parameters that will ultimately be resolved by legislation and technology.

Google is not the only company working on autonomous vehicles, Audi and Volkswagen are also developing similar technologies. By now, other companies are like moving in this direction.

The technology and regulations are in their infancy, but it won’t be too long before we are all sleeping or working as we commute.

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