No, a Google car was not ticketed for going too slow, and other stories

Another road trip has meant fewer posts — this trip included being in Paris on the night of Nov 13 but fortunately taking a train out a couple of hours before the shooting began, and I am now in South Africa on the way to Budapest — but a few recent items merit some comment.

Almost every newspaper in the world reported the story of how a motorcycle cop pulled over one of Google’s 3rd generation test cars, the 2 seaters, and a lot of incorrect reports that the car was given a ticket for going too slow. Or that there was “no driver to ticket.” Today, Google’s cars always have a safety driver (who has a steering wheel) and who is responsible for the car in case it does something unexpected or enters an especially risky situation. So had there been a ticket to write, there would have been a driver in the car, just as there is if you get a ticket for speeding while using your cruise control.

Google’s prototype is what is known as a “Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle” or NEV. There are special NEV rules in place that make such vehicles much less subject to the complex web of regulations required for a general purpose vehicle. They need to be electric, must not travel on roads with a speed limit over 35mph and they must themselves not be capable of going more than 25mph. The Google car was doing 24mph when the officer asked the safety driver to pull over, so there was nothing to ticket. Of course, that does not mean an officer can’t get confused and need an explanation of the law — even they don’t know all of them.

The NEV regulations are great for testing, though there is indeed an issue around how the earliest robocars will probably want to go a little slow, because safety really is the top priority on all teams I know. As such, they may go as slowly as the law allows, and they may indeed annoy other drivers when doing that. This should be a temporary phase but could create problems while cars learn to go faster. I have suggested in the past that cars wanting to go slow might actually notice anybody coming up behind them and pull off the road, pausing briefly in driveways or other open spots, so that the drivers coming up behind never have to even brake. A well behaved unmanned vehicle might go slowly but not present a burden to hurried humans.

Ford may also avoid standby supervision

Recent reports suggest that Ford, like Google, may have concluded that there is not an evolutionary path from ADAS to full self driving, in particular, the so-called “level 3” which I call standby supervision, where a human driver can be called on with about 10 seconds notice (but not anything shorter) to resolve live driving problems or to take the wheel when the car enters a zone it can’t drive. This transition may just be too dangerous, Google has said, along with many others.

Cheaper LIDAR etc.

Noted without much comment — Quanergy, on whose advisory board I sit, as announced progress on the plans for an inexpensive solid state LIDAR, and plans to ship the first on schedule, in 2016. This sub-$1000 LIDAR keeps us on a path to even cheaper LIDAR, which should eliminate all the people who keep saying they want to build robocars without LIDAR — I am looking at you, Elon Musk. Nobody will make their first full robocar less safe just to save a few hundred dollars.

Also related to Starship, another company I advise, is the arrival of not one but two somewhat similar startups to build small delivery robots. “Dispatch Network” involves U.S. roboticists who participated in a Chinese based hardware accelerator and have a basic prototype, larger than the Starship robot. “Sidewalk” — a Lithuanian company, also has a prototype model and a deal with DHL to do research together with them on last mile robots.

My flight is boarding — more to come.

California vehicle code

are nev's subject to cvc21656 which requires a slow driver to pull over if there are five or more cars behind?


There will be a need to resolve the different speeds fairly early when robocars leave the NEV stage and start taking on the traffic in the bigger world. Safety is always going to be a top priority and any significant mismatch in speed will cause frustration and possibly accidents. The solution may be a compromise where we accept driverless vehicles driving a little faster (and accept the resulting danger) and slowing humans down by more strictly enforcing speed limits.

More aggressive policing of speed limits to reduce road fatalities can bring about a cultural change in attitudes (we nearly all drive a little past the limit by default) and bring down average speeds closer to speed limits. However this may have to be pushed even harder which unfortunately that could make the public a little angry, with robocars coping some of the blame.

One possible solution could be SatNav systems with the ability to calculate traveling speed exactly way the same as robocars and then have an adaptive cruise control function that is slaved to the output, ie basically the speed is automated. It would be interesting to understand the human psychology behind voluntarily handing the accelerator over to computers for general driving. Would people react by becoming frustrated at the slower movement or would they settle down and just accept going with the flow knowing they are safe from speeding fines? Could such a system be introduced in new vehicles and who could coordinate any industry standards? Perhaps I am behind on news and it is being looked at already?

On speed limits, our current system is road signs and fixed maximum limits covering constantly varying roads. Ideally maximum speed should be a more dynamic variable to suit each small section of road. An ideal speed should be as fast and energy efficient as possible without compromising safety and within the ability of each vehicle. Perhaps ideal maximum speed and accelerations will one day be mapped out by traffic engineers and made available to SatNav companies and others and we may see the end of fixed road speeds?

Limiting yourself

There is very serious opposition to having cars physically limit their speed. Indeed in Canada it was ruled a constitutional violation, and attempts to do it in the USA and several other places have gotten nowhere. Even things like speed cameras (which end up being mostly for revenue, not traffic control) get a lot of opposition almost everywhere.

The NEV regulations allow you to build a much simpler car with vastly less regulation — which is good. The speed limit is the price. General cars should not have different speed rules, because as noted, this can cause problems, but it’s good for research robocars and other first generation vehicle to have the ability to go a bit slower than normal to give them a change to get started safely. Robocars will help prevent a lot of accidents; it’s well worth a bit of annoyance to get this going. I am not sure it will cause many accidents — if it does, they will be minor and they will, under the law, be the fault of the over-eager driver. While you can get a ticket for going too slow on some roads, I have never heard of this causing fault in an accident. But maybe it has — a cite would be interesting!

I continue to prefer the approach of the French Autoroute — a fast speed limit, which people actually obey. Much better than a limit almost everybody ignores.

Linking speeds

Thanks for the reply Brad. I was not actually suggesting physically limiting the speed of cars, apart from robocars which simply would not speed. Rather I was suggesting greater speed enforcement so that people consciously decided not to stray over the maximum limit. I don't think the French Autoroute — a fast speed limit, would be the right way to go if the aim is to move towards safety by aiming for the synchronization of speeds when humans and robocars start to mix it on the roads (I am assuming robocars will be operated at slower speeds until they prove themselves).

But as a thought experiment, if I had to drive to work regularly and there were plenty of slower moving robocars on the single lane roads, I would rather hit a cruise control function and just go with the flow than constantly trying to find passing spots. A sophisticated cruise control could be based on a data set that is a store of maximum safe speeds recorded at a sample rate of a few seconds by a professional test driver. We should be able to map out speed just as effectively as road direction.

I have not heard of a slow driver being punished for causing an accident, although there are plenty of studies showing them causing a lot of frustration and the Courts clearly see then as a problem or laws against slow driving would not have been introduced. In my opinion getting robocars and humans traveling at similar speeds on single lane roads will be crucial to their success.

point of comparison

The 130 km/h in France is slow by some standards. On about half of the Autobahn in Germany, there is no speed limit. There is a lot of traffic, but fewer deaths per distance travelled than most anywhere in the world. Of course, part of this might have to do with the fact that drivers' ed is quite extensive compared to, say, the States. Also, the average car is probably better suited to such conditions.


Yeah whatevs. Someday we'll just beam ourselves around. But at the present time, a slow vehicle has a duty to pull over and let others pass if a line of cars has formed behind. If an accident results, even if it's because of stupid actions by a driver in the long line behind, it seems likely that lawyers will turn their attention to the deep pockets.


In what country did the non-existent story take place? Can you rule out that it really did take place somewhere else? I read a similar story from a reliable source.

Non-existent story?

Not sure what you mean. The google pull-over was reported in their blog, among other places.


Yes, it was reported, but you are saying that it was wrongly reported, e.g. there was no ticket. Thus my question WHICH story was wrongly reported? Where did it happen?

Hundreds of stories

Almost every newspaper and blog covered the event, a large fraction incorrectly reporting that it was driving too slow, or that there was “no one driving” to give a ticket to.


Hi Brad! Bumped into your blog from a link to your ProleText post from years ago, from a link from a Perl2Whitespace re-coder/interpreter called Bleach. Fun times! Like you, I was around for the birth of the Web, as a COBOL/Assembler/C programmer at Scotiabank. Frustrating times for me; I could not get anyone interested in doing anything new in terms of Internet business. Even my fellow programmers were happy just to wait for someone else to do it rather than lead the way. Needed better friends I guess, or faster coding skills - still do. Great to read your blog!

Amazing how little time it takes for some things to reach production (like Giant Magnetoresistance) while things like solar power and driverless cars (spellcheck flags "driverless", case in point :-() were regular topics in Popular Science/Mechanics in the 60's and 70's. Times have certainly changed.

Anyway, it occurs to me that the greatest limitation on the last-mile delivery bots isn't technical or market failure - but success. Single-destination delivery requires a separate vehicle for each destination and a return trip for each. If the service reaches sufficient scale to make it profitable, this implies hundreds or thousands of sidewalk-bots (which also take up space to store, stage, charge, yadayada) plying the pavement, half of which are simply making an empty return trip. A single large vehicle - like a driverless van - on the other hand, can make a circuit of the delivery route just as a human driver does. A single DHL truck, for instance, might hold 300 parcels or more in a single trip.

(This of course gives me visions of spaceships landing, spewing robots which go about planting nefarious devices and return to the mothership.)

Just thinking out loud.

I'm sure the logistics people are aware of this - but I'm not sure anybody is actually listening to them.

What's your take on it?


One delivery

Other than because the robot is small, there is no reason it can’t carry packages for several people along the same route if the packages are small, the people are home, and they don’t need the robot to wait for them. It adds a small delay, but saves money, so people can decide if they don’t want to share.


Thought of that. Still seems silly. Tech in search of an application. Nothing wrong with that but...


Also cognitive of the fact that bot need never return home - could just trundle on to next customer for a reload and battery-swap. Still seems silly - unless we are all suddenly crippled or afraid to venture outdoors.

For a large fraction of the world

They don’t walk to shop, or do so very rarely. They drive to the store. Not sure why it is silly to have a faster method that uses less time and energy.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
Please make up a name if you do not wish to give your real one.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Personal home pages only. Posts with biz home pages get deleted and search engines ignore all links
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options