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Consumer group urges caution on self-driving cars

As more and more media attention has been lavished on Google’s efforts to introduce a driverless automobile to the world, some people in California are urging regulators to pump the brakes. In a letter to the director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Consumer Watchdog said that more testing is needed before Google’s self-driving car can safely be allowed on state roads.

If nothing changes, regulations the DMV has created for the testing of automated vehicles will go into effect on Sept. 16, around the time Google plans to start testing a two-seat vehicle. Assuming that testing goes well, on Jan. 1, 2015, rules for public operation will be adopted. In other words, we could see Google’s cars on the road less than seven months from now.

Consumer Watchdog says that is not enough time to ensure that the vehicles are safe and will reduce car accidents, as supporters claim. In the letter to the DMV, the group urges regulators to put off creating regulations for public use until mid-2016, at the earliest.

The letter warns against prioritizing manufacturers’ “self-serving agendas” above the public good. The consumer group worries that manufacturers may not provide manual overrides in the event of a malfunction or emergency.

“Occupants would be captives of Google’s technology, completely at the Internet giant’s mercy,” the letter says.

The Google cars will have a top speed of 25 miles per hour, and powered by electricity. Many traditional automakers, such as Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen, are testing self-driving technology, so these vehicles could be common sites on the road someday.

Safety is one of the justifications for these vehicles. Theoretically, drunk driving and distracted driving could eventually become things of the past. Of course, to truly cut into the auto accident rate, the computer drivers need to be safe and reliable as well.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Google’s driverless car will need more testing, watchdog group warns,” Jerry Hirsch, June 10, 2014

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