What in the hell happens when one of Google's driverless cars gets pulled over and handed a ticket?
I say 'when' because it's actually never happened. Though Google's self-driving vehicles have now logged over 700,000 miles, the Mountain View Police Department has never issued a citation. A Sergeant with the PD recently hold The Atlantic that Google's autonomous vehicles have never been officially ticketed, nor have they been pulled over and let go–at least to his knowledge.
Of course, this brings up the obvious question: What'll happen when one does get ticketed?
Though Google is currently working hard to make their car more city-ready, mistakes are bound to happen. Google's self-driving fleet has never been involved in any accidents, but that doesn't mean that one of the cars couldn't do something that could be seen as a traffic violation to a nearby officer. It seems inevitable that one of the cars will eventually get pulled over.
And when that happens, Google apparently wants the ticket.
"What we've been saying to the folks in the DMV, even in public session, for unmanned vehicles, we think the ticket should go to the company. Because the decisions are not being made by the individual," said Ron Medford, Google's safety guy for its driverless initiative.
But Google doesn't have the final say in how California police departments, and eventually police departments all over the country handle any possible missteps by our robot driver overlords. It all falls to the current vehicle code, and how lawmakers and courts decide to adapt based on ever-changing technology.
"Right now the California Vehicle Code reads that the person seated in the driver's seat is responsible for the movement of the vehicle," says the Mountain View PD. "Exceptions being someone grabbing the steering wheel and forcing the car off the roadway, etc."
Furthermore, since 1972, California's Vehicle Code has defined a "driver" as...
A "driver" is a person who drives or is in actual physical control of a vehicle. The term "driver" does not include the tillerman or other person who, in an auxiliary capacity, assists the driver in the steering or operation of any articulated firefighting apparatus.
You see how this could get muddy?
It's basically up to officials to get this right. California signed its driverless car law back in 2012, and what it did was demand the department of transportation adopt new safety standards for the new vehicles by next year. The roadways are changing, and there have to be new definitions and new guidelines for what constitutes a "driver" or "operator."
What do you think? Should Google foot the bill? Should the occupant still be responsible, since they initiated the program that led to the unlawful driving action?
Image via Google