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Sunday, 31 May 2015

Californians are OK with Google self-driving cars and are ready to ban non-self-driving cars

From an avid Reader

I just want to share some observations. Also, I don't work for Google or any other autonomous vehicle company - I just happen to live in Mountain View, CA and I've shared the road with SD cars for the past year or so.

 I see no less than 5 self-driving cars every day. 99% of the time they're the Google Lexuses, but I've also seen a few other unidentified ones (and one that said BOSCH on the side). I have never seen one of the new "Google-bugs" on the road, although I've heard they're coming soon. I also don't have a good way to tell if the cars were under human control or autonomous control during the stories I'm going to relate.
Anyway, here we go: Other drivers don't even blink when they see one. Neither do pedestrians - there's no "fear" from the general public about crashing or getting run over, at least not as far as I can tell.

Google cars drive like your grandma - they're never the first off the line at a stop light, they don't accelerate quickly, they don't speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).
Google cars seem to be a little overly-cautious at intersections where visibility is limited: Think a T-intersection where a big truck or a bush blocks visibility for the road that needs to turn either left or right. The Google car I saw inched forward very slowly with a lot of pauses, as if it was stopping to get its bearings even though it obviously hadn't pulled forward enough to "see" anything. It appeared very safe, but if I had been behind it I probably would have been annoyed at how long it took to actually commit to pull out and turn.

Google cars are very polite to pedestrians. They leave plenty of space. A Google car would never do that rude thing where a driver inches impatiently into a crosswalk while people are crossing because he/she wants to make a right turn. However, this can also lead to some annoyance to drivers behind, as the Google car seems to wait for the pedestrian to be completely clear. On one occasion, I saw a pedestrian cross into a row of human-thickness trees and this seemed to throw the car for a loop for a few seconds. The person was a good 10 feet out of the crosswalk before the car made the turn.

It's safe to cut off a Google car. I ride a motorcycle to work and in California motorcycles are allowed to split lanes (i.e., drive in the gap between lanes of cars at a stoplight, slow traffic, etc.). Obviously I do this at every opportunity because it cuts my commute time in 1/3.

Once, I got a little caught out as the traffic transitioned from slow moving back to normal speed. I was in a lane between a Google car and some random truck and, partially out of experiment and partially out of impatience, I gunned it and cut off the Google car sort of harder than maybe I needed too... The car handled it perfectly (maybe too perfectly). It slowed down and let me in. However, it left a fairly significant gap between me and it. If I had been behind it, I probably would have found this gap excessive and the lengthy slowdown annoying. Honestly, I don't think it will take long for other drivers to realize that self-driving cars are "easy targets" in traffic.

Overall, I would say that I'm impressed with how these things operate. I actually do feel safer around a self-driving car than most other California drivers.

I think that, inevitably, non-self driving cars will eventually be banned from the roads to let SD cars operate at their full potential (which personally I'm not thrilled about as I'm a car-nut and I love to drive). Perhaps an aftermarket transmitter could be included in non-SD cars*? Something to warn SD cars of your location so they can anticipate you cutting them off or you having the right of way through an intersection with limited visibility.

The takeaway? I give SD cars 5 stars. Would buy. *You read it here first folks! Someday 5 years from now when you're mandated to buy one of these for your 2015 Camry you'll know where the idea came from.

Update: This article has been featured by
Digital Trends
Marginal Revolution
Slate and so many more

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