It’s a question without a definitive answer just
yet, but if the super-nerds at Google are to be trusted, we may
soon be better off without speed limits.
Reuters took a ride in one of the Internet giant’s hands-free
whips, and talked to some researchers:
There wasn’t any speeding even though, ironically, Google’s
engineers have determined that speeding actually is safer than
going the speed limit in some circumstances.
“Thousands and thousands of people are killed in car accidents
every year,” said Dmitri Dolgov, the project’s
boyish Russian-born lead software engineer, who now is a U.S.
citizen, describing his sense of mission. “This could change that.”
Google’s driverless car is programmed to stay within the speed
limit, mostly. Research shows that sticking to the speed limit when
other cars are going much faster actually can be dangerous, Dolgov
says, so its autonomous car can go up to 10 mph above the speed
limit when traffic conditions warrant.
So, when do we start uprooting those black-and-white signs and
let our hair fly free in the autonomous automobiles? That isn’t
certain yet, either. Although Google cars, according to the
BBC, “have travelled on more than 700,000 miles of open road,” and
the company unveiled a pedal-free, steering-wheel-free vehicle in
May, there is no release date yet.
Although speed limits seem like common sense, this eventual
proliferation of safe, self-driving cars could prove them to be
just another outdated regulation. Since technology changes and
improves at such a rapid pace, laws trying to regulate it are often
obsolete by the time the ink dries. Even if they were
well-intentioned, they end up acting like an anchor on further
improvements and can even become dangerous impediments.
Countless reports have documented that red light and speed
cameras are counterproductive, making roads more dangerous.
The less the better works on larger scales, too. In the last few
years, several towns in Germany,
the Netherlands, and the U.K. have done away with
just about everything – traffic lights, bike lanes, stop signs,
sidewalks – and the results are good. Having in a sense deregulated
the roads, people have become more attentive, fatalities
declined, and congestion has been
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