Google’s driverless cars are programmed to sometimes break speed limits

One of the big features of telematics hardware and always connected vehicles, is that keeping an eye on people’s speed is a lot easier and if insurers are involved, there’s an incentive for the driver not to have a heavy foot as it could result in them having a cheaper premium by the end of the year. However, Google’s fully automated, driverless cars have actually been programmed to break the speed limit when appropriate.

I imagine many of you would argue at this point that it is never appropriate to break the speed limit. Those limits are in place to protect road users and civilians and represent what is considered the safest maximum speed to drive those roads on, however according to Google research that’s not the case in many instances, especially in motorway driving. If every car around you is going faster than the speed limit, on average by around 10 miles per hour according to Google, it’s actually safer for the driverless vehicles to match those speeds, rather than remaining at the road legal maximum, since it’s the disparity in speed which creates the most danger, not the actual pace of the vehicles.

This is something that legislators in the UK may have to consider, as there is a big ongoing push by MPs to make driverless cars legal on UK roads. Once that is pushed through, it’s expected that we’ll see the first trial runs of automated vehicles next year. However, it will be interesting to see if it is Google’s small, 25MPH bubble-like cars which get to stretch their legs on British roads first, or some of Google’s modified vehicles from 3rd party manufacturers.


Either way though, allowing driverless vehicles on British roads is a big deal, since it will require a complete reworking of the law, which currently requires an able bodied person to be behind the wheel of a moving vehicle at all times. Whether that will be the case come next year remains to be seen, as it really depends on how much automation legislators are happy with. That will ultimately decide how useful these cars are as well, because it would be no good having a car that drives itself if you have to spend all of your time on stand-by in case it makes a mistake.

As the BBC reports however, the uptake of automated vehicles might be slow, but there is a real push from legislators that would like to see all vehicles, be they manual or driverless, be interconnected and therefore able to predict accidents with enough time to apply the brakes, whether there is human intervention or not.

Of course much of these laws are being twinned with Google’s advanced technology, rather than some of the stop-gap systems being implemented by other manufacturers. It will be interesting to see how the traditional automotive industry adjusts itself to Google’s new found fame among politicians and whether they see it as a genuine threat, or one that could never upset their long standing status quo.

Image Sources: Google, Sam Churchill

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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