Dmitri Dolgov, one of the leading software engineers on the Google autonomous car project, told Reuters earlier this week that the cars had been reprogrammed to allow them to exceed the posted speed limit by up to 10 miles per hour. The change was made to allow the car to keep up with the driver operated cars around them, which are normally driven about 10 miles an hour above the posted limit. He said it was a matter of safety.
Ask any traffic engineer and you will find that speed is not the biggest factor in car accidents. It is the difference in speed that is dangerous. In other words, a car going 10 mph too slow is just as dangerous as one going 10 mph too fast.
But the State of California has reacted immediately, with new rules requiring any autonomous car operated within its borders to have a steering wheel, a brake pedal and an accelerator, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Google Car has none of these old fashioned devices, but will now be retrofitted with them to comply with the new rules.
On one hand, you can understand the concern of California officials. How would it look if a Google Car suddenly ran amok, like Hal in the movie “2001 – A Space Odyssey,” mowing down innocent women and children? Oh, the humanity!
On the other hand, a few years from now people will think of this as an example of techno-phobia. It reminds me that at the dawn of the motorcar, many cities required a person to walk in front of any horseless carriage ringing a bell to warn the populace of danger.
The bureaucratic mind is almost as scary as self driving cars. Maybe more so.