We don’t want automated cars driving the current speed limits

Should automated vehicles follow all the current traffic laws or will they need to be changed?

When Delphi took its prototype Audi robocar from San Francisco to New York in April, the car obeyed every traffic law, hewing to the speed limit even if that meant impeding the flow of traffic.

“You can imagine the reaction of the drivers around us,” Michael Pozsar, director of electronic controls at Delphi, said at a conference in Michigan last week, according to Automotive News.  “Oh, boy. It’s a good thing engineers have thick skin. All kinds of indecent hand gestures were made to our drivers.”

And that indicates that a problem is brewing, argues Prof Alain Kornhauser, who directs the transportation program at Princeton University. “The shame of the driving laws is that they all sort of have a ‘wink’ associated with them,” he says. “It says 55 miles per hour, but everyone knows that you can do 9 over. If that’s the situation, why isn’t it written that way—with a speed limit at 64?”…

In fact, if all cars were autonomous and connected to each other wirelessly, they wouldn’t need stop signs even at the intersections of multilane highways…

I imagine following the speed limit in the Chicago area would lead to some very unhappy drivers. Theoretically, we might not even need speed limits with driverless vehicles as it would all be dependent on the conditions. This might mean that vehicles would go slower at times than drivers might like (perhaps in inclement conditions) but could go a lot faster and more safely even with a good number of drivers nearby.

But, if traffic laws need to be changed, when exactly would this happen? Presumably, it will take some time to introduce these vehicles onto the road and some time for them to grab a large part of the market. Of course, the government could push all new cars in this direction – particularly since they could be so much safer – but older models would still be on the road for some time. To change the laws, all the cars need to switch over at once, an unlikely event. Until all cars are driverless, traffic laws would have to be more conservative to account for drivers but that probably wouldn’t make the new owners happy.

Overall, I haven’t seen much discussion of how automated cars and cars with drivers will mix even as we creep closer and closer to this eventuality.

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