One thing is for certain when it comes to the Internet giant, whether you now refer to it as Alphabet or still call it Google. The folks from Mountain View are adept at spouting self-serving spin.
Here's the latest example. A traffic cop stopped one of the company’s prototype pod cars for impeding traffic. According to the police account of the incident on the department’s blog, cars were backing up behind the robot car, which was traveling 24 mph on Camino Real in a 35 mph zone.
A police spokesman told me, “This was a regular traffic stop, red lights, etc. The operator of the car most likely took the car off of autonomous mode to pull over (but this I’m not sure about).”
It is against the law to impede traffic in California, so it makes sense the that the car was pulled over. Here is where Google’s spin begins. On the Google Self-Driving Car Project page on Google+ the spinmeisters offered this explanation for why their robot car was going so slow:
We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25 mph for safety reasons. We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets.
The real reason that the robot car prototypes are capped at 25 mph is so they can operate under DMV rules governing “Neighborhood Electric Vehicles.” That category allows the the cars to be operated without some federally mandated safety equipment, such as air bags. The NEV rules say such vehicles — often little more than golf carts — must have a top speed of only 25 mph, be able to reach a speed above 20 mph within a mile on a paved level surface, and can’t drive on roads with a speed limit above 35 mph.
So, even though the Google pod car was impeding traffic, it was operating legally within the rules for NEVs. The cop used his discretion and opted not to issue a ticket. After all, the different rules that apply to the situation are a bit contradictory.
Based on my own experience driving around Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, California, where there are a few human-driven NEVs, their slow speeds can be annoying. They can — as the Google robot car was doing — impede traffic.
All of which prompts me to wonder. Google got a warning, no ticket. What do you think would have happened if it had been me driving an NEV who was stopped for impeding traffic on Camino Real?