Google’s Driverless Cars: The Future of Motoring or the Death of Safety?

Google has always been known for being a forward-thinking company; after all, they’re the number one web-based business in the world. They’re also known for having a number of different (and some would say ‘radical’) ideas in the pipeline at any given time. One of the most well-known of these is the driverless cars initiative. The concept is that people would be taxied by cars with no human driver. Futuristic as the idea may be, Google has made it a reality, and while it may be a few years off yet, the US government is already taking steps that could see these cars on American roads within three years.

California’s new driverless legislation

Up until now, these cars – controlled by computers and advanced GPS navigation – have only been able to be tested under strict conditions in certain places. But just last week, the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, signed off on a law that directs the DMV to draft regulations about driverless cars to come into effect by January 2015.  Crucially, the law as it currently exists does not require Google to gain any additional approval between the testing and production of these vehicles. That means that they could, without any intervention from the state of California, launch driverless cars to the people of the state by the year 2015 – and the law wouldn’t be able to stop them, regardless of safety concerns. The legislation currently only applies within Google’s home state of California, so it’ll be a long time before the UK has to consider the implications, but health and safety concerns are naturally being raised by Californian citizens.

Is Google’s driverless technology safe?

Common sense would suggest that having no driver in a car is a recipe for disaster. After all, how can a computer react to the rapidly changing conditions that driving presents? Could a computer really brake at the same speed as a person if a child runs out into the road? These issues and more are what concern certain citizens of California, and the wider world. Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin has actually stated that he believes the company’s driverless cars will be “far safer than human-driven cars” because a computer will always follow strict rules, will never be tired or have had one too many to drink, and will obey the rules of the road to the letter. This may well be true, and the testing the company has done is surely rigorous, but the experience of actually driving is often far different from the theory of it. Just compare the way you drive now to how you drove in order to pass your test: it’s a totally different experience, and involves a lot of instinct and thinking fast – things that computers can’t yet be trusted to manage. The idea of hiring a vehicle would also change with the new technology, with actually being able to drive no longer being a requirement. No longer would car hire mean having to know how to drive. In fact, renting a vehicle would be as simple and easy as hailing a cab – you just jump into one of Google’s driverless cars and it will take you where you want to go – no need to bring the rented car back to the depot. Convenient, for sure, but is it worth the risk?

Are Google a little too convincing?

With the signing of this bill in California, many people have suggested that Google are a little too slick for their own good, having a tendency to ‘dazzle’ politicians and get their own way. The concerns are that this slick patter will be of no use when people actually start to sit in cars controlled by computers and surrender their wellbeing to the machines. There are those who also cite Google’s sometimes lax attention to privacy concerns as an indicator that they pay little attention to the law. After all, when your company is the largest in the world, how much damage will a little bad press do? It’s nothing a few million won’t fix. Google are a huge company, but they have a responsibility to thoroughly test any new tech – just like other companies do. With the new bill in California, they’ve been able to slip that net – so who knows how safe the driverless car tech will be when it hits Californian streets after 2015? Only time, it seems, will truly tell


Posted by on October 9, 2012. Filed under Car News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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