Urban Velo

California Legalizes Autonomous Cars

We’ve posted about self-driving Google cars in the past and these vehicles continue to make relative leaps and bounds to actual implementation. For a while Google was driving them…err, letting them drive themselves…under the premise that because a law has not deemed autonomous cars illegal then they are free to let them operate. Well, the state of California has now circumvented that premise completely and went ahead and legalized their operation, so long as there is an operator present to take over if need be.

Although not bike-centric in nature, the development and implementation of this technology has obviously direct consequences for cyclists. Cars are, after all, the greatest threat to our safety so it’s worth paying attention to any development that might mitigate some of the human error in our transportation choices. It might even be a cause to champion by bicycle advocacy/alternative transportation groups, if the vehicles do prove to lower car / bicycle collisions.

There are those pesky moral considerations, however. How does a car react to a shopping cart and baby stroller rolling in front of it. Which does it decide to hit? And when it does cause a fatality, who is responsible? I mean, how would you feel if you were hospitalized by a self-driving car that had no other choice but to hit you in order to avoid hitting someone else. Who do you get to pay your bills? It’s a tricky moral consideration, but hopefully such circumstances would be minimized and overall we end up developing vehicles that kill LESS cyclists than the current state of affairs.

About Scott Spitz

Commuting, touring, kid hauling, couriering, mechanic work, sales, advocacy, fixed, free—Scott has had his hands in it all over the years.

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  1. jdmitchSeptember 27, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I hate to sound like a jerk, but quite frankly in all of the situations you cited that would have required a human decision-making-process, WOULD NOT HAVE EXISTED IF THE DRIVER HAD BEEN AWARE OF HIS/HER SURROUNDINGS PRIOR. In other words, the driver created the ultimate situation by being distracted up until that point. Had the driver been aware, they would have stopped LONG before the choice became “which is the least damaging to hit”. Autonomous cars have the potential to remove this setup. They are always aware and never distracted.

  2. scottSeptember 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Autonomous cars are scary and a horrible idea.

  3. Scott SpitzSeptember 27, 2012 at 4:50 pmAuthor

    jdmitch….I think that’s the perceived overall benefit to these vehicles and they would more often than not eliminate that human error component, the tricky part is when “unavoidable” circumstances take place….for the sake of an absurd hypothetical argument, a stroller and a shopping cart accidently roll in front of a fast (but under the speed limit) moving autonomous car and one of them WILL get hit. What then? But yes, overall, these cars would seemingly go a long way to avoiding this circumstance in the first place….and with the proliferation of self-absorbed, impulsive, TEXTING drivers…I’m all for them.

  4. TanSeptember 28, 2012 at 7:21 am

    They want an autonomous car? Get on a flippin bus…

  5. PaulOctober 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I eagerly await widespread use of autonomous cars. It’s quite evident that most drivers don’t want to drive, and many drivers are unqualified to drive. Like jdmitch said above, robot cars eliminate human delay and error. As for the unavoidable situation you demonstrated, you wrongly presumed that a human driver will distinguish which not to hit, in an emergency situation many people don’t have the necessary presence of mind. There are many examples where drivers have hit pedestrians and cyclists to avoid animals in the road, another vehicle, or other hazards; self-preservation usually preempts drivers concerns for others. Recall the support vehicle during the Tour de France that sideswiped a racer to avoid driving into a tree, certainly the driver knew the cyclist was there, but the driver disregarded him to avoid wrecking himself. Most drivers are unlikely to endanger themselves in a wreck to avoid hitting another, even in situations where they (the driver) are likely only to receive minimal injuries.

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