By on August 9, 2011

When news hit late last week that one of Google’s driverless cars had been involved in a minor fender-bender, the anti-autonomous driver argument made itself. “This is precisely why we’re worried about self-driving cars,” howled Jalopnik.”Google’s self-driving car seems like the ultimate distracted driving machine.” But on the very same day, Google claimed that

One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car [emphasis added]

Before you know it, the other side of the debate, as epitomized by Popular Science flipped the argument, insisting that

this incident is yet another example — as if we need one — of the human capacity for error. Hopefully when cars do take over, they’ll be able to prevent these types of incidents on their own.

So yeah, there’s a pretty wide range of opinions on the issue. And with Nevada’s legalization of driverless cars, it’s only a matter of time before something happens that busts the debate wide open again. So, how do you feel about our new robot overlords? I, for one, could live with the technology for freeway/expressway use… but not without drawing some kind of clear lines around legal liability. Off-freeway? No thanks. Too few benefits from packing traffic tighter and too many other variables in traffic. What say you?

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64 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Where Are You In The Driverless Car Debate?...”

  • avatar

    Love the idea… Going to buy a cargo van with reclining massage seats, Internet and satTV and never bother with manually driving again.

    • 0 avatar

      Most of the cars I see on the road today appear to be “driver-less.”

      This technology has been around for years, but it’s been call public transportation.

  • avatar

    The question remains, why was the driver driving the car manually? Did the automated driving system “crash” before the car crashed?

    I love the idea… A lot of people would rather be doing things other than driving, and this could give them that freedom without compromising everyone else’s safety.

  • avatar

    A whole new set of laws will have to be devised.
    Who is to blame when the robot-driven car has an accident? Robot-driven will not assure you of no accidents – just different ones.

  • avatar

    I think I’d take my chances with a robot driver than some of the idiots on the road now. Me, I’ll keep my hands on the wheel…until I need to respond to a txt or wrap a gift box while driving (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it). Then it’s autopilot time.

    This article raises a few good points about what may come of autonomous cars. More traffic? How about sky high maintenance costs since these things will undoubtedly have to be well tuned and up kept.

  • avatar

    I am all for it. Driving for pleasure is great, but 99% of my driving is commuting or droning down the highway. This will basically be an everyman’s chauffer, but much less accident prone.

    Could you imagine starting your workday as soon as you sat in your car, or even taking a nap until you arrived? On vacation, wouldn’t it be fun to enjoy the scenery? How about this: you’ll never have to look for a parking space again- your car will drop you off and pick you up at the door! Going to the airport? Have your car drop you off and then drive home.

    I frequent a ski area that’s 150 miles away. Getting up early, skiing all day, and then driving home is extremely tiring, and my biggest safety concern isn’t the skiing but the drive home. This will vastly improve safety.

    Eventually, when this becomes standard, cars will beome networked and cooporative. They’ll automatically route around congestion. We’ll eventually limit manual cars to secondary and tertiary roads, and the driverless cars will be able to go down the road at 100 mph just inches behind the car in front of them (or even touching, to make the most of the available power), saving massive amounts of time, fuel, and making 5x the use of existing infrastructure. Heavy trucks will do the same and form ad-hoc highway trains, eventually with no humans on board at all and running 24 hours per day instead of 8, reducing the cost of just-in-time shipping everywhere. Once no driver at all is required, kids will be able to take themselves to schoolHow about this….going to a party? Well, no worries about having one too many!

    At intersections, things will be controlled not by lights and signs, but by the network- cars will space out just enough to allow cars to whiz through in both directions.

    Once accidents become very rare, crash safety will not be much of a concern. Cars will be built with the light-weight sensibilities of airplanes, making them much more efficient and affordable, and making alternative energy sources MUCH more practical. Furthermore, auto-insurance will diminish to next to nothing, and tens of thousands of lives per year will be saved, eliminating vast amounts of waste and suffering and retaining vast amounts of lost productivity in the economy.

    Of course, cyber-security will become a HUGE concern, but the benefits are just too good to pass up.

    Driving pleasure will be limited to antiques on secondary roads and motorsports enthusiasts at tracks, just as it is now days with horses.

    • 0 avatar


      The fact that in this case the human was driving proves the point, has the Google car ever crashed with software driving?

      Its just a matter of time and getting most of the bugs sorted out, no system will be perfect. However a few generations from now people will laugh at the idea of letting a “distracted, emotional human” drive a car, just how we laugh at the idea of riding a horse for days on end just to reach the next town.

    • 0 avatar

      “Could you imagine starting your workday as soon as you sat in your car, or even taking a nap until you arrived?”

      Buses and trains provide this service today…assuming your destination and schedule are available.

      • 0 avatar

        I am allergic to smokers and dirty people. So, whenever I have a choice, I avoid taking public transportation. (To be honest, I live an affluent neighborhood, but the buses are not dedicated to the normal sanitary people. The smells just stick there.)

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, wsn. Since when did allergic equal dislike? When we needed more justification to treat our preferences and comfort as absolute need? Must we be so dramatic? Ok…

        You know what? I am allergic to people from your part of town. They get that bug to party or eat at an interesting restaurant and they drive their 4mpg cement truck/luxury vehicle to my part of town (the dirty part where many people ride the bus/trains because they are viable transportation options) and park like jackasses – taking up 2 street parking spots (and the bike lane) so no one bumps their precious Mobile Isolation Chamber equipped with Echo Chamber Ego Boost Ver. 2.4 and Fat Ass Cushions with Automatic Posterior Massage and Readjustment. And AWD.

        Go to hell. Or really, stay in yours. It would be much better for your allergies and mine.


  • avatar

    Love it. I’m all for fahrvergnugen but my commute is dull and I would love to read the paper on my way to work.

  • avatar

    They’ve been testing these for hundreds of thousands of miles and this was the first collision? No injuries?

    Hell, better install them on every car, then.

    Look, I’ve got mixed feelings on this whole thing. Yeah, I like driving cars myself. On the other hand, well…

    I was talking with a friend of mine the other day that I, uh, used to have more respect for, and she mentioned some multi-car accident that she was involved in.

    “Yeah, it was all my friend [redacted]’s fault”, she said.

    “Oh, what happened?” I ask.

    “Well, she was in the passenger seat and I was driving. This was about two in the morning, we were going home from a club. We were both pretty drunk. Anyway, my ex-boyfriend called my cellphone! Now, I’m trying to answer the phone so I can yell at him. [redacted] finds out who is on the phone and tries to grab the phone out of my hand and pulls my arm to her side of the car! So I end up accidentally swinging the steering wheel to the right, because she’s pulling me, and I crash into a car who crashes into another car and so forth.”


    “Yeah, so it was all [redacted]’s fault. She ended up with a broken arm, too. Nobody else was hurt. I’m lucky, the cops didn’t breathalize anyone.”


    So yeah, true story and all that. I’m thinking that unless they start making computers that can get drunk, we might be better off this way, at least between 11 PM and 5 AM.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Never thought I’d say this, but driving is no longer fun. I’d just as soon let “George” do the flying and I can join the thousands of idiots out there who think texting and talking on their phones is more important than looking outside.

  • avatar

    I’ll definitely be ready to let the robot do the driving (selectively) once it’s proven to be ready for prime-time. I’m not an early adopter by nature, but there are plenty of times that I would relish being able to hand over the reins to an ever vigilant automaton, not the least of which is the return trip from a late night gathering of friends or family so that I wouldn’t have to worry about being in satifactory condition to safely pilot the car for the hour or two it takes to get home. I’m even game to let the robot take the wheel on secondary roads as long as I can choose whether the robot or I will do the driving.

    The technical capabilities of the bots aren’t what worry me the most, though. First, privacy concerns will not be addressed since the govt will not accept limits on their ability to retrieve at will the travel records of any automated vehicle, and these automated vehicles will most certainly be in regular (if not constant) contact with central traffic computers. Secondly, I fear that insurance companies will quickly start to price manual driving out of the reach of the average driver once automated control racks up a better record of incident free operation. It will start as discounts for having an automated car, then a discount only when the robot is driving, leading ultimately to surcharges for manual operation.

    • 0 avatar

      How would you feel about an adaptive cruise control required lane? Black box with 15 seconds of data preservation, only to be pulled in case of an accident. Would that be an acceptable privacy compromise?

      I think the trouble will come when you combine machine controlled and human controlled systems. 100% machine controlled is (relatively) easy. Accounting for inherent human unpredictability in what’s otherwise a uniformly behaving system is a lot harder. Plus, it’s not really uniform. Each car it’s own braking and acceleration curves. A computer can optimize for that, but only if all values are known.

      Going back to the relatively limited example of a computer controlled HOV lane, when do you allow the driver to override the computer? The entire point of a machine controlled system is to optimize flow. Erratic behavior defeats the purpose. In a multilane system, every human controlled car is just potential turbulence in your pipe. I think that’s a very difficult problem. Considering how far AI hasn’t come in twenty years, I don’t think it’s plausible that we’ll see fully automated cars in widespread use for the next twenty, even on the highway.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you’re missing the rather massive point that the Google cars are existence-proofs that automated cars can already safely mesh with human-driven cars.

        If it’s not obvious, I for one welcome our robo-driving overlords. There’s some massive upsides that are possible with a mostly- or all-autonomous car fleet on the road, and the very likely safety benefits will be an unbeatable reason for adopting this technology.

        You laugh now, but wait until Mothers Against Human Drivers starts their campaign.

  • avatar

    Driving my personal vehicle. I’ll miss it, a LOT.

  • avatar

    All for it. But let me go ask my car what it thinks…

    btw, the banner photo … that’s no car, it’s a helicopter with one of those bladeless main rotors.

    In all seriousness, until stuff like the following (newly posted on NHTSA ODI site today) stops happening, driverless cars will be a while in coming…

  • avatar

    “I, for one, could live with the technology for freeway/expressway use… but not without drawing some kind of clear lines around legal liability. Off-freeway? No thanks.”

    I couldn’t say it any better, really. I don’t like driving on the freeway – too stressful in town, too boring out of town – but in other situations manual driving would be preferred (low traffic/country roads/on a track).

  • avatar

    I agree with many of the pro-driverless car comments above. I would support it especially for HOV (carpool) lanes. For example, as a pilot program driverless cars are only allowed in HOV lanes. As an incentive, increase the speed limit for HOV lanes, maybe 85mph vs 65mph for regular lanes, or reduce tolls for driverless cars. Or, limit driverless cars to only the left lane on the highway. I travel on I-95 between DC and Richmond regularly, the problem seems to be that during heavy traffic cars keep speeding up then slowing down, causing a ripple effect of delays that extends 30+ miles. Driverless cars could significantly reduce travel time and fuel consumption for everyone.

  • avatar

    Have something else drive me to work in the morning? Spot on. Means I can have an extra nap on the way to the office. But I do want control over the machine when I go out for a drive on the weekends and on some tiny little back lanes.

  • avatar

    When I sit in a pointless traffic jam every day I can’t help but think of the day when cars will drive themselves and will communicate with each other. No longer will on or off ramps be points of congestion. Nor will we have the guy going 60 in the left lane or some fool tapping their brakes because they see cop 10 yards away facing the other lane(who if he were facing them, would have already gotten a hit with the radar). All of that will be gone. It will be safer, more environmentally friendly and allow for faster travel. But I foresee two problems, the first being that manual driving will someday be banned. Which would kill me. I love highway driving when its not congested, and the back roads are even better. But self driving cars will degrade skills and the thought processes associated with driving so much that accidents will balloon and safety nanny’s will demand all cars be driven by programs. The second problem is how the states/local governments will make up for all the revenue lost revenue. Probably extra inspections or taxes when you buy your car, which would be rather frustrating.

    • 0 avatar

      “When I sit in a pointless traffic jam every day I can’t help but think of the day when cars will drive themselves and will communicate with each other.”

      I think not only car-to-car communication will reap the largest benefits in the “driver-less” future, but consider the larger car-to-“system” communication required to provide navigation for the car. If a central system knew where everyone was going and when, cars could be directed together in one seamless, relatively uninterrupted flow. Traffic lights and lane markings would be obsolete. Streets would be uni-directional and infinitely variable. The efficiency benefits from planning everyone’s routes together as a proactive step would be huge compared to the largely unpredictive, reactive design of roadways we use now.

  • avatar

    I agree with the highway only comments. In addition, any driverless car must be either (1) consigned to the right lane only or (2) designed to go with the flow of traffic, in excess of posted limits. Nothing spells road rage like being pennend in on the highway by a bunch of driverless drones. I also think BillySeward is right that many people will lose what little drivng skill they now possess. It is a slippery slope that only leads to banning human controlled driving. Which decreases liberty for all of us and is something I would never support.

  • avatar

    IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. Not in my lifetime.

    #1 computers can’t anticipate everything. Sure they can slow down and speed up or change lanes, but does a computer know to avoid “bad” neighborhoods with sexual predators? Does a computer know how to avoid WIND FALLEN TREES? I think not.

    #2 Most people don’t want to give up their driving enjoyment. Even pilots on newer planes that can LAND THEMSELVES don’t want to actually let the plane do it. They want to have the enjoyment of manipulating it.

    There’s a joke in the aviation industry that says a Pilot and a Dog are all that’s needed to fly an Airbus. The pilot is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bark at the pilot if he tries to touch anything.

    #3 People are so broke they can’t afford to buy a loaded Kia. I can’t imagine how much a driverless car would cost. It would take 50 years for that technology to be standard equipment.

    • 0 avatar

      Of course the bad neighbourhood problem can be mitigated with some commands in the NAV system/route planner…and sensors can probably detect a fallen tree and other objects on the road…I wonder about bridge collapsings and sinkholes though, maybe it’d drive straight into those, which would be an experience. I guess they could be linked to real time data from satellites even about those events at some point in the future. In the end I think the question will be should we want to do this rather than can we do this.

      I like that joke though.

      • 0 avatar

        “Bad neighborhoods” would have to be marked off on the Navigation system. There’s already backlash against Google Streetview for privacy issues so I KNOW that no computer will EVER be given directions to avoid specific hoods. Imagine the lawsuits from store owners in their bulletproof Chinese restaurants.

        There is NO COMPUTER SENSOR IN THE WORLD that can anticipate and respond to multiple threats ranging from the road level to falling objects. You think a computer is gonna slam on the brakes if it senses a ball roll into the street – not knowing a kid is behind it and manage to not hit them.

      • 0 avatar

        No I meant you can manually as a human give the bot directions to avoid certain hoods you’re uncomfortable driving through…eventhough the car drives itself you still have control over where it should drive.

        As for the sensors…maybe not today but tech moves fast.

      • 0 avatar

        Bigtruckseries is right. There needs to be a huge advance in AI before we can have driver-less cars. Besides, if AI gets to the point that it can be used for autonomous vehicles on roads, you’ll be out of work because the same technology could be used to eliminate most jobs.

        I think what really is going on here is that Google is just building their patent portfolio. When the hardware & software finally appears, their IP firm will be ready.

      • 0 avatar

        No I meant you can manually as a human give the bot directions to avoid certain hoods you’re uncomfortable driving through…eventhough the car drives itself you still have control over where it should drive.—————

        Imagine you drive from NYC to Detroit (for whatever reason). You’re telling me that YOU personally know what areas to avoid?

      • 0 avatar

        Imagine you drive from NYC to Detroit (for whatever reason). You’re telling me that YOU personally know what areas to avoid?

        Actually, I do have a prototype that can do that. I was experimenting with google maps on android last year and wrote an app that adds a GIS layer to the google map app. It grabs GIS data from State gis databases. One set of data I found was crime data. So, I could integrate crime data with a map and use it for navigation.

        The problem was that the Droid 1 I was using didn’t have enough power to deal with the data and the data source was a little slow. Anyway, it can be done and I do have a (barely) functioning app. I’m planning on using the same technique for my autonomous vehicles, but to get terrain data – mine are not intended for travel on roads.

      • 0 avatar

        — “Imagine you drive from NYC to Detroit (for whatever reason). You’re telling me that YOU personally know what areas to avoid?”

        The fact is, most people don’t. Even if you have prior experience, it may not be up to date. The best way is to download an up to date app to your navigation system.

      • 0 avatar


        Well no…But how is that a shortcoming of this self driving car? You wouldn’t know them now and you wouldn’t know them then. Point is, the system wouldn’t (hopefully) force you to drive anywhere you don’t want to.

    • 0 avatar

      #1 The “bad neighborhoods”, could just be another app downloadable to your navigation system. What’s the chance a tree falls on a car? What’s the chance people eat/text/drunk in a car and really need an auto-pilot?

      #2 People pretty much forgot hand-washing your clothes could be “fun” too. They will get over it.

      #3 When the technology matures, self-driving cars will actually cost less, because there is a $80 saving due to lack of gas pedal and hand brake.

  • avatar

    Insurance and liability issues will stall the driverless car. If the car crashes with the autopilot on, is the driver responsible, or is the manufacturer to blame? That will be for the courts to decide.

  • avatar

    This won’t happen because no automaker or third-party is going to want to absorb the liability for car wrecks, especially when there are deaths or serious injuries. There would be fingerpointing galore and multiple-way lawsuits as drivers sue each other and their automakers, and as automakers sue their hardware and software providers. Nobody with any business sense is going to want to touch that.

  • avatar

    I say nay. Even on the highway, I’d rather drive myself because it’s relaxing. Plus here in Europe, highways have some curves here and there and the speedlimit is close to reasonable, so I don’t see driving as boring wasted time. Plus, but this is just me, I always get a huge headache from reading/gaming while travelling in a car anyway.

    I could see it as a solution for those people who have mindnumbing commutes on 55 mph highways without a corner in sight or for those stuck in traffic everyday but I think this is something that everybody has to do for it to work, in which case on balance I think it’s better without the bots.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Robots at the wheel? Yes. I’m good with that. Not everybody will have to use a robot. A robot sure as hell can’t drive any worse than the idiots here in the Garden State. Or the old people in Florida.

  • avatar

    Wait, you mean most Camrys aren’t autonomous already? I was pretty sure they are after driving around Houston for a couple years now.

    For most people, who don’t give two excrements about driving, and just want to get from A to B, an autonomous car is fine. For enthusiasts, um, no. At least not full-time.

    • 0 avatar


      You think it’s bad around Houston? Try Dallas, where if you see an entire lane slowed down to 50 mph during non-peak hours, you can be GUARANTEED that the driver holding the lane up is driving a Camry. It’s almost clockwork.

  • avatar

    I work in an environment where people and “robots” work side by side. Humans and robots are kept separate from each other for safety. The humans disrupt the robots efficiency and the robots crush the humans…

    If driver-less cars ever come to market a similar form of separation would need to exist. Exclusive lanes for one or the other. No intermingling at all. I’m in favor of that. The more the robots drive the less the capable drivers have to bother with those who aren’t.

    As “neato-wowwy” as it sounds though, paying a professional driver held to a high standard of practice (like how doctors and prof. engineers are) not only provides thousands and thousands of jobs… but would also be cheaper than the mere development cost of autonomous drivers and more easily fit our current system of laws and insurance regulations. I think this is leading back to public transport reform… it makes so much more sense!

  • avatar

    Driverless cars = unAmerican. That’s what mass transit is for.

  • avatar

    Attorneys love to sue anyone with very deep pockets. And Google’s pockets are very, very deep.

    The problem with this technology is that it is intended to replace the executive function of the human mind, which is where judgment comes into play. It’s an attorney’s wet dream. I predict that Google settles this one quietly, out of court, for an undisclosed settlement.

    All other automotive technology is a whole lot simpler because it has to deal with far fewer contingencies in comparison. Even with something as comparatively simple as a throttle control, it’s hard to defend against all the ambulance chasers out there. Just ask Toyota.

  • avatar

    “I, for one, could live with the technology for freeway/expressway use…”

    EXACTLY how I feel. As a Southern California driver who has to deal with ridiculous traffic, I would welcome the idea of a driverless car if it promised a more pleasant freeway experience.

    Off the freeway, no thanks. I enjoy driving too much.

  • avatar

    Many of us are assuming that once we set the car on autopilot, we will be able to read a book, shave, eat breakfast, send emails, play cards with our passengers or even take a snooze. I’m not so sure that will be the case, at least not right away. I suspect that at first, and maybe for a long time, laws will require that a licensed driver be properly positioned at the controls at all times ready to take over immediately should the computers hiccup.

  • avatar

    No robot drivers for me, thanks. I’d rather ride the bus.

  • avatar

    Time to reserve my “JON-ECAB” vanity license plate.

  • avatar

    Seems a little too ‘Terminator’ish to me. A computer cannot anticipate some dips*** cutting in front of you or decide when to increase speed to avoid a tractor-trailer barreling head on at you when the driver has 10 straight hours of driving in for the day.

    How long until machines start making life-or-death decisions based on some program? Oh wait, they already are starting to…GOD HELP US.

    Just watch ‘iRobot’. That should put this debate to rest.

  • avatar

    For those saying ‘but of robots do all the work you’ll be out of a job’…If robots do all the work, wouldn’t that just mean most people don’t NEED to work anymore?

  • avatar

    I’m with Ed on this one…

  • avatar

    What happens when they decide to accelerate by themselves? Yikes!

  • avatar

    Could autonomous vehicles moving efficiently together during commuting hours be the new mass transit? especially in areas where moving large numbers of people by bus or train is impractical or too costly?

    • 0 avatar

      It certainly removes the main objection of mass transit (it’s a public space, when people greatly prefer otherwise).

      • 0 avatar

        Another objection to mass transit, I’ve never used it – except for riding the lightrail downtown for a baseball game – since I live in the ‘burbs, is that the schedules are inconvenient for some and the reach is inconvenient for others. We, cornfed Americans, like to be able to get out of the vehicle as close to our destination as possible and don’t want to deal with any of that pesky walking that it takes to get from the bus-stop to wherever. I’m not counting myself out as I’m not immune to these same feelings.

  • avatar

    Seems like this will be a long way before being approved for the general public, so I’m not thinking too much about it.

  • avatar

    I often drive with cruise control when on the highway, and I wish I could retrofit adaptive cruise control to my daily driver for times when highway traffic is too heavy and/or changing speed to much to use cruise. Would I like a computer to take over the steering as well? Not really. I think this would be appealing to a lot of people though.

    What I’d really like to see are Star Trek style transporters, to get all the non-enthusiasts off the road and leave it for those of us that enjoy driving. :)

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I think automated cars would make a lot of sense in certain situations. First, they would have to be networked with each other; second, they would have to be networked with a road information system and third, they would have to have their own lane on the highway.

    It seems to me that the best use of these, as some others havae pointed out, would be the creation of digitally-connected “trains” of vehicles moving together at high speed and closely spaced in a dedicated left lane of a freeway which had no exits. The occupant would program the car for a certain destination and then the system would break that car out of the train as the exit for that destination came near. At that point, the driver would revert to manual control. Likewise, a personal wishing the join the “train” would manually approach the train from the side and then let the system take over. The system would slow down the cars in the train behind the approaching car to make room for it to move to the left and join the train. Similarly, if a car left the train, the system would accelerate the cars behind it to close up the gap to the specified (small) distance.

    It seems to me that a system like this would make high-speed travel safe and more efficient (from the drafting effect of closely spaced cars).

    I do not think driverless cars in other situations are anywhere near ready for use. The situations are too complex and too subject to misinterpretation by sensors. It’s hard to imagine they would provide material increases in safety, anywhere near commensurate with the cost.

    And for all you public transit freaks, the reason this is better than the bus or the train is that you don’t have to go to a “station” to join the “train” or leave it.

  • avatar

    Guys saying this will never happen, or require special lanes: the google car has been driving itself around ACCIDENT FREE, with ZERO COOPORATION, on REGULAR ROADS for a couple years now. That’s amazing for an early prototype!

    To get some of the efficiency benefits though and further advantages might require networking, or not permitting regular cars on certain roads, but this could be simpler than you think.

    It might be as simple as each car having a transponder broadcasting where it intends to go and how it intends to get there. Two or more cars going the same way for a while can find each other using this and form a train. In cities, receivers on the road will hear where everyone wants to go and when and then offer suggestions to those cars on the best way to get there. The only thing the manual car wouldn’t be able to do is form the trains or negotiate electronically controlled intersections.

  • avatar

    I am surprised at the apparent overwhelming support for autonomous vehicles on this forum, of all places.

    People are really willing to surrender ALL control of their vehicles to a computer, have all of those automated vehicles networked together as well as back to a master controller, and have them follow within inches at 80+ MPH? What happens the first time some 10 year old hacker gets into the traffic network computer and tells one car in the conga line to nail the brakes? Or someone throws a set of stop spikes across the road for laughs, or a deer runs into the highway, or one of the cars suffers a major mechanical failure… the possibilities are endless.

    I can’t believe the idea of having an automated vehicle lane from which a car would automatically exit to the “manual” freeway, then hand over manual control to the driver would work either. Drivers pay little enough attention to the task at hand now, they’re guaranteed to zone out during their hour-long automated ride. What happens when said “driver” is asleep when the auto-car pulls into “manual” traffic? Not to mention the problem of drivers already in the manual lanes now needing to anticipate unexpected lane changes near every exit, and the fact that, even if you could get this to work safely, the increased volume of cars hitting popular off-ramps would overwhelm their capacity and back up the freeway, including the automated lane.

    The Google cars, while impressive, have not logged hundreds of thousands of miles of autonomous operation. As of October 2010 they had done about 1,000 miles with no human intervention, all the rest with some human input. They have software engineers riding along monitoring everything, and a trained operator at the wheel who you can be sure has a vested interest in paying attention at all times and making sure the car doesn’t get in trouble. A New York Times account indicated that the human stepped in when a bicyclist ran a red light, and when a car stopped to back into a parking space. If the car can’t be trusted to deal with those relatively routine situations on its own, how can it handle something more dramatic, particularly in an environment where hundreds of cars are running at high speed in close proximity?

    I’ll retain human control, thanks.

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