Are We Safer With Google In The Driver's Seat?
November 7, 2010
Are the safest drivers...no drivers at all?
Recently Google, the huge corporation that rose up from the phenomenal online search engine of the same name, revealed that it has been using a special "driverless car" to drive the roads of California - even up and down Lombard Street, the most curvy road in downtown San Francisco and known as one of the more difficult streets to navigate.
Equipped with a bizarre spinning "laser cylinder" on top of the vehicle roof, as well as a full complement of other hi-tech sensors and the latest GPS technology, the new Google cars are not, strictly speaking, driverless; the company makes sure that a real, live expert human driver is always behind the wheel to take over if necessary. But, for the most part, these amazing new vehicles drive themselves, with the driver merely watching, like an astronaut strapped into one of the early NASA space capsules.
Six Toyota Priuses and one Audi TT have been modified by Google to drive themselves; the test cars have driven 140,000 miles in total and 1,000 miles continuously without human intervention. They are programmed to take specific routes and the speed limit for each street or highway on the set journey has been entered into the car's computer so it knows how fast to travel.
The Google engineers argue that the new driverless cars could actually make the roads safer - cutting down on car accidents that lead to wrongful death and personal injury cases. The driving technology is able to react more rapidly than people, it has 360-degree "visibility," and you won't catch it napping behind the wheel.
They also see other benefits - claiming more cars could share the streets, since they could safely drive closer together. At the same time, they also speculate the world would be able to make do with fewer cars - electronic cars could drop off one passenger and go pick up another one all by themselves.
For the time being, Google does not have a specific game plan as to what they will do with this breakthrough car that they continue to test on the California roads. But, in case you were wondering, the Google execs studied the California driving regulations and determined that the cars were legal to put on the roads, as long as a human was behind the wheel to take control in case of a problem. Still, they generally notify local police departments that they plan to drive the cars through their areas.
But, further on down the self-driving road, what will it mean if an autonomous auto does cause a car accident? Who should a personal injury or wrongful death attorney go after - the person sitting behind the wheel or the maker of the technology?
"The technology is ahead of the law in many areas," Bernard Lu, senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles told "The New York Times." "If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle."
These issues will undoubtedly create a great deal of debate in the coming months, as the ultimate in cruise control continues to advance to a roadway near you.
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