Google corporate must be such a weird little world, with its mad (computer) scientists and utopian experiments. Just look at this goofy, yet genius, souped up Prius they’ve actually delegated company brain power, time, and money to rig up. According to the New York Times, the company’s taken six Priuses and an Audi TT, suited them up with Google brand artificial intelligence, and hired a bunch of Stanford students to go out an drive them. Except not drive them, because these cars actually drive themselves. Using programmed databases and some sort of external sensors, these cars have reportedly driven 140,000 miles of California roads (including Lombard Street’s famous wiggle) with only occasional human intervention. Which begs the question, are driver-less cars street legal?
Google, naturally, has thought of that. As long as someone with a valid license is behind the wheel (and can assume liability if something goes wrong), it seems it doesn’t matter if the car’s on autopilot. According to a California Department of Motor Vehicles lawyers interviewed for the piece, legally, Google’s auto-drive is (legally) nothing more than enhanced cruise control. But that doesn’t mean you can just push “go” and get in the back seat; or summon a car remotely (say from a parking spot up the hill). “If you look at the vehicle code,” the lawyer tells the Times, “there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.”
So far, only one accident in the Google car: one was rear-ended by another car. If a Google car was ever at fault, presumably the (non)driver would be held liable. Considering texting, being inebriated, or otherwise distracted behind the wheel tends to add on charges of “negligence” to what would, if the driver was sober and attentive, be an accident, I’ve got to wonder what would happen if your self-driving car were to hit someone while you’re reading the paper in the front seat. In other words, Google is legally testing its driver-less cars, but the car will face many more legal tests.