Google cars follow all traffic laws to a ‘T’. Is that a problem?

Let’s be frank: It’s not only other people who break traffic laws. When there are no cops around, we all decide which traffic laws really have to be followed. When…

Let’s be frank: It’s not only other people who break traffic laws. When there are no cops around, we all decide which traffic laws really have to be followed. When it comes to other people … well. We have pet peeves about slow-crossing pedestrians, motorcyclists who split lanes on the expressway, drivers who try to stop bikers from splitting lanes — there are a million of them.

Yet even supposing every single driver was committed to following every traffic law all the time, we’d never be able to remember all the various state and local traffic laws. We’re not robots, right?

Plus, sometimes it’s irritating when other drivers do follow every law. When we encounter a seemingly over-cautious driver, we’ve been known to mutter things like, “pick up the pace, grandma.” We believe in some unwritten “rules of the road,” don’t we?

Traffic law, rules of the road and Google’s self-driving vehicles

Google cars drive like your grandma,” an anonymous reviewer noted recently. The writer did not wish to identify himself, except to say he was a motorcyclist and car nut from Google’s home town of Mountain View, California. He also said he doesn’t work for any company making autonomous vehicles.

While Google’s self-driving vehicles aren’t widely available, models are apparently being road-tested in the area. The motorcyclist could only review them from the point of view of someone sharing the road, but he was pretty impressed with them generally. He gave them “5 stars” and a “Would Buy” rating.

At the same time, he pointed out that driving near a Google car might be a frustrating experience for some drivers. Google cars know all the traffic laws, but they don’t know the unwritten rules of the road:

  • At intersections where visibility is limited, Google vehicles slowly inch forward and take numerous pauses before making turns.
  • When pedestrians are crossing, Google cars wait until they’re completely across the street — and sometimes longer — before making a turn.
  • If another driver cuts a Google vehicle off, the autopilot immediately slows down and leaves a generous (excessive?) gap that other drivers may perceive as an opening.

So, if you’re in a Google car on autopilot, you’re going to be a very cautious, law-abiding, irritating “driver.” Is that safer, or will it cause confusion or road rage? It looks like time will tell.