Watch out, California commuters: Google has received approval to test its “fully functional” self-driving car prototype on Bay Area public roads at the start of 2015.
The tiny two-seat vehicle resembles a Smart Car and follows routes according to Google Maps, mainly in suburban office parks and downtown streets.
Yet experts are divided on whether or not this innovation will be a good thing in the long run.
Ratna Amin, director of transportation policy at San Francisco-based urban advocacy group SPUR, predicts that the cars could mean good things for consumers and city transportation systems alike.
“I can imagine these cars starting in closed, campus environments, or cordoned-off test areas with low-speed roads where the risk of collision, injury or death is much lower,” Amin said, but also notes that most cities aren’t yet ready for such vehicles.
But some believe that these vehicles could reduce the number of accidents in large cities — and they could affect the number of personal injury lawsuits, as well.
San Jose, CA, transportation chief Hans Larsen noted that his city alone had 42 deaths and 2,700 injuries as the result of automobile accidents. Nationwide, around 30,000 people are killed in car accidents, and two million more are injured — despite safety advances in vehicles over the past few decades.
Larsen chalks the accidents up to “human error or behavioral issues” and said that “Technology can make vehicles safer and provide a greater level of sensing than humans can.”
How might that affect auto accidents from a legal standpoint?
There’s also the issue of insurance. Most insurance companies simply haven’t developed policies that would cover self-driving cars just yet, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It’s not only Google that’s developed a driverless car: six other brands, including Nissan, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, have won approval from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to test their own self-driving cars. Since September, some 25 test vehicles and 107 permitted test drivers, who are there to prevent major issues, have been approved by the state DMV.
Google, however, has actually developed a prototype and is more interested in the experimentation. Other companies have so far just retrofitted their vehicles with driverless software.
So far the only “driverless” feature on a car to be considered road legal is parallel parking assistance, which is available in some newer model cars.