Google’s driverless cars ‘will be allowed to speed’

Author

Matthew Sparkes Deputy Head of Technology

August 20, 2014

Google’s driverless cars have been given permission to break the speed limit by up to 10mph, admits the head of the project – but not by police

Google’s driverless cars have been given permission to break the speed limit by 10mph admits the head of the search company’s autonomous car project – but only by software engineers, not the police.

Dmitri Dolgov, the project’s lead software engineer, told Reuters during a recent test drive that it would be safer for Google’s cars to keep up with traffic when it was slightly exceeding the speed limit than to rigidly stick to it and cause an obstruction.

But this ability to speed has been restricted to 10mph over the speed limit, he said.

It is not clear who would be liable to pay a speeding fine when a driverless car was involved: the owner, the passenger or Google for writing the software. The problem is just one of many legislative and insurance issues that need to be resolved before the autonomous cars can become mainstream.

Dolgov also said that there were “ethical issues” to be ironed out before the cars can become commercially viable.

“Should a car try to protect its occupants at the expense of hitting pedestrians? And will we accept it when machines make mistakes, even if they make far fewer mistakes than humans? We can significantly reduce risk, but I don’t think we can drive it to zero,” he said.

Earlier this year it was announced that the Highway Code would be rewritten to allow driverless cars on Britain’s roads.

The Government committed to reviewing laws to “ensure there is a clear and appropriate regime for the testing of driverless cars that supports the world’s car companies to come hand test them here.”

Recent changes to the UN Convention on Road Traffic, which dates back to 1968, will also help to accommodate fully autonomous vehicles. Previously it demanded that “every driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle or to guide his animals”.

But an amendment now allows a car to drive itself, as long as the system “can be overridden or switched off by the driver”. This could mean that even once driverless cars are a common sight on our roads, they will still have steering wheels.

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