Google Self Driving Car

Google’s video showing a blind man taking a ride to a Taco Bell in a self-driving car was legal, according to Google and the police department which monitored the test.

A spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol saw it differently, however.

In the video (embedded below), Google’s self-driving car takes Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, to a Morgan Hill, Calif. Taco Bell for a taco or two.

Google released the video to celebrate that it has safely completed 200,000 miles of computer-lead driving.

The video shows Mahan sitting in the driver’s seat as the car steers itself, using radar and lasers to make sure the road is clear. The car takes him through the drive-through of Taco Bell, then to the dry cleaners as Mahan jokes that “this is some of the best driving I’ve ever done.”

“Where this would change my life is that it would give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go, when I need to do those things,” Mahan says in the video.

Normally, placing a blind man behind the wheel could be grounds for an arrest. But the search giant said that the Google representative seated in the passenger seat was able to stop the car in the case of an emergency—which meets one of the restrictions set in place by Nevada, which approved a program to put self-driving cars on the road in the future. Nevada law also prohibits an inebriated driver from taking the wheel of an autonomous vehicle.

Of course, the test took place in California, not Nevada. California doesn’t have any clear guidelines for self-driving cars, but Google and police monitors said everything was perfectly legal with Mahan’s trip.

“Yes, this test was legal,” a Google representative told in a statement. “It was performed on a carefully designed course, and we filmed in partnership with the local police department. We also placed one of our project experts in the passenger seat who could stop the vehicle if it became necessary.”

Detective Sgt. Troy Hoefling of the Morgan Hill Police Department, who helped oversee the test, said that there is currently no California law governing how a self-driving vehicle can be operated. “Where I justified it was that I compared it to a 15-year-old taking driver’s ed,” he said. “Unlicensed, learning to drive, with a licensed person next to them that could take control in an emergency situation.”

According to Hoefling, the passenger in a Google car can take control in three ways: via a brake pedal on the passenger side that can stop the vehicle, via an emergency stop button on the center console that can be reached by anyone in the vehicle, and by means of the laptop the Google representative is seen holding. In all three cases, the car can be stopped, but not remotely controlled except by the driver’s steering wheel, he said.

A spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol on Friday saw it differently, however.

“In order to legally drive a vehicle in California; it must be done so by an appropriately licensed driver,” Fran Clader, director of communications in the Office of Media Relations for the CHP, said in a statement. “Whether the input from a driver into the driving of a vehicle is done manually or electronically through entered commands, the driver is still responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle and is also required to abide by all existing rules of the road. Additionally, the vehicle must comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards as well as all requirements of the California Vehicle Code.”

If the driver was not appropriately licensed, he could be stopped and subject to citation, Clader said.

In response, a Google spokesman said that the passenger was a licensed driver with control over the vehicle.

“A licensed driver with the ability to control the vehicle ran the test from the passenger seat,” the Google spokesman said. Law enforcement officers issued a permit and provided a police escort because they were satisfied with the legality of our test.”

Police were in the vicinity of Google’s self-driving car, but did not stop traffic or otherwise interfere, Hoefling said, who called the car’s performance across the mile and a half or so that it traversed “absolutely flawless.”

Barring any objection by his superiors, Hoefling said the department would be willing to help out in future tests.

“It’s something that we see the benefit of,” the officer said. “We see that there are countless opportunities for people to benefit from the technology. I think it’s a long way away from being sent out and ready to go. I think that there are a lot of hurdles to jump through, but being involved in the testing process, I think we’d be amenable to assist in any way we could.”

Google announced its self-driving car project back in 2010 with the goal to “make driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient.”


How does this change the future of the blind being able to drive? And even those without blindness? How reliable to you believe the self driving car will be? When do you expect to see these on the road?


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