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Will Speed Limits Inhibit Autonomous Car Adoption? 650

Maximum Prophet writes "Here's a thought: at the start, only rich people will be able to pay for a completely autonomous car. Auto-autos will only go the speed limit. Rich people don't like to go slow. Ergo, there won't be any market for automatic cars. Wait, I hear you say. The rich guy will just modify his car to go faster. But, if you go over the limit it's a fine, but to mess with the safety systems of even your own vehicle is probably a felony. Much more likely: the rich will get new laws passed to make it legal for automatic cars to go much, much faster than human-driven vehicles."
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Will Speed Limits Inhibit Autonomous Car Adoption?

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  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:32PM (#40641241)

    I'm pretty sure that if self-driving cars ever do become prevalent (and I'm skeptical, to say the least), they will all allow human manual override at any time. In other words, control freaks who can't stand traveling at the speed limit will be able to assume manual control at any time and gun it to whatever speed they like (and get tickets if they pass a cop). The self-driving feature will indeed appeal to the rich on their high-end cars at first, but not so much for what it can actually do as for the status symbol of having it. At least at first, most drivers will probably only actually *use it* for times when they're really tired or have other stuff to get done.

    Never underestimate the power of a status symbol. I mean, how many well-to-do drivers actually regularly *use* even half the exclusive features on their high-end Mercedes? But they're still happy to pay extra for the top-tier package, just to say they've got the top-tier package. And I say that as someone who still pays for an OnStar and navigation package that I used to brag on to everyone, but that I've only ever used a few times.

    Oh, and you'll still be able to honk at the slow-poke in front of you too. Because you know he can still manually take over and doesn't HAVE to be holding up traffic in auto-drive.

    • by mr1911 ( 1942298 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:36PM (#40641313)
      Please keep your logic out of blatant attempts to further bait class warfare.
    • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@NoSpam.gmail.com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:39PM (#40641351) Journal

      Yep this is what's gonna happen until autonomous cars are ubiquitous. The real question is, once they are, will the speed limits be bumped up significantly and will traffic lights be phased out for synchronized high-speed dodging, or will we continue to tool around like grannies? In other words, will speed limits ruin the greatest potential improvement that autonomous cars have to offer?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:46PM (#40641469)

        I don't see traffic lights disappearing unless EVERY SINGLE CAR is autonomous, and probably not even then. How will pedestrians cross the street?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:51PM (#40641539)

          Pedestrians? There will be no pedestrians in the future, only autonomous scooters!

        • Very quickly, I'd hope.

        • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:29PM (#40642057) Homepage Journal
          How will pedestrians cross the street?
          The pedestrians will have to be autonomous, too. it's all part of the plan.
      • by AvitarX ( 172628 ) <me AT brandywinehundred DOT org> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:52PM (#40641573) Journal

        I'd say the biggest plus is the freedom to go to a bar as a suburbanite.

        • by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 ) <xptical@NOspam.gmail.com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @04:19PM (#40642879)

          I don't think that will be an option for a *long* time. As it stands now, if you are close to your car (and have your keys on you) you can be charged with DUI/DWI. The cops argue that you are technically in-control of your car any time you are near it.

          I've seen two DUI busts while people were sitting in a non-running car listening to music. I've seen one for someone who went to get something out of the car without ever sitting inside or turning the ignition.

          And as long as we have MADD, it'll be hard to change. They will always come back with "what ifs" and TOTC and lawmakers will roll over.

          • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
            I actually suspect drunk driving (as well as most other traffic violations) will be a big factor in slowing down the adoption of autonomous cars. What city or state agency is going to want to give up the huge amounts of money that are collected on things like drunk driving? Cities and counties require crime at this time to stay solvent.
          • by Sabriel ( 134364 )

            Sounds suspiciously like where you live has thugs with badges, not cops.

          • Yeah, I gotta say those laws really need to be clarified so the vehicle has to roll for it to count, or at least have the keys in the ignition. I mean come on "Driving" is right there in the name of the charge, not that that means anything.

            Heck, I've heard accounts of people getting arrested for riding a horse drunk - now tell me how that makes any sense at all. Do they think the horse is going to ram into someone because his drunk-ass rider fell asleep at the reigns? They're the original autonomous vehi

      • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {cornell.edu}> on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:38PM (#40642191) Homepage

        One of the things that has been advertised as a big benefit for autonomous cars IS that much higher speeds are permissible while remaining safe. Similarly, much closer following distances are possible without compromising safety.

        Many of our speed limits are based on safety decisions made based on "typical" human reaction times. You can get a ticket now for "following too closely" based on the assumption that at speed X, you need Y feet of separation to be safe based on a reaction time of N milliseconds.

        The reaction time of an autonomous vehicle is far less than N milliseconts, permitting X to be higher and Y much lower.

        There have been, for example, "auto trains" of multiple autonomous vehicles operating with ridiculously small separation distances on test tracks.

        The problem is - how do you make the transition? A mix of autonomous and human-driven vehicles won't work well unless the autonomous vehicles obey the limits imposed on human-driven vehicles. So you need to segregate the human vehicles from the autonomous ones. This is really difficult in most places.

        There's one exception: In many metropolitan areas, highways have HOV lanes. HOV lanes are intended to increase the capacity (in humans per hour) of that lane. In quite a few areas, they have the secondary goal of reducing fuel consumption and emissions per user. (In some places, this goal has been prioritized to the point where vehicles that meet certain emissions/efficiency standards are permitted in HOV lanes with fewer occupants than the normal HOV limit - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-occupancy_vehicle_lane#Qualifying_vehicles. [wikipedia.org])

        A big problem with current HOV lanes is, honestly, the humans. On quite a few business trips to Long Island, my coworkers and I met the HOV lane criteria during a time the HOV lane restrictions were enforced (usually the tail end/beginning end of that period when traffic was lighter than the peaks the HOV lane was designed for). In quite a few cases, there were enough HOV-eligible vehicles that the HOV lanes weren't any faster than the main lanes. In a few cases, a single vehicle meeting HOV eligibility but with a slow driver would render the HOV lane significantly slower than the non-HOV lanes of the highway.

        Autonomous vehicles would be the perfect solution to the remaining HOV lane problems. Most likely, the cost of autonomous vehicles will mean that the costs of them meeting above-average emissions/efficiency standards won't be that much more. (After all, Google's "open road" driverless vehicle is a Prius, which meets the "single occupant in HOV lane exception" requirements in many areas that have such exceptions for "green" vehicles.) - Autonomous vehicles can achieve significantly higher speeds at lower separations in a HOV lane, significantly increasing the lane's capacity significantly even for single-occupant vehicles.

        The problem is, of course - the transition. Making a HOV lane into an autonomous-only lane requires enough autonomous vehicles to justify it. It probably won't work with mixed vehicles at all - you don't get the speed/separation capacity benefits.

    • by bieber ( 998013 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:53PM (#40641579)
      Once you get autonomous cars driving safer than humans on average (and I would be surprised if we haven't already passed that point, because humans get themselves into an awful lot of trouble operating motor vehicles), a manual override would be one of the worst possible things you could add. Think about it: when is a human driver most likely to override the car's AI? In a situation that they perceive as an emergency, say a pedestrian jumping out into the street, getting cut off at an intersection, so on and so forth. And when would the ultra-fast computational abilities of a computer be the most important? You guessed it, those same situations. If you give humans the option to take control, you can be sure that more often than not they're going to use it at the worst possible moments.
    • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:58PM (#40641653)

      I tend to agree that the technology for acceptable self driving cars is probably quite a ways off.

      The current crop of such cars are merely aimed at getting around safely and not running into anything. They don't currently notice that two lanes to the right they could be moving much faster, and are content to putz along in the slow lane following a city bus that stops every two blocks.

      They don't watch brake lights 4 cars ahead to provide clues about the need to slow down, and instead rely on slower speeds and (more than) adequate spacing. They don't yield to people in the next lane with their turn signal on indicating a merge, and again rely on excess space so that they are never in situation of failing to allow a merge.

      In many other ways, they drive like student drivers, except they do it ALL the time and never learn, never improve.

      But I disagree that these will appeal to the rich or to high end car owners. You don't buy a high end car to NOT drive it.
      If there is no environmentalism goodie-two-shoes angle, the rich won't buy this to park in the garage next to the unused Prius.

      Commuters. People who can put the commute time to good use, are the likely target market. Especially where that commute time is an hour or more.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:33PM (#40641271)

    It would seem the summary author hasn't been driving on the freeway anywhere in the US for the last 30 years. The normal speed of traffic is 10% over the limit. It is far from limited to the rich.

    It seems far more likely that these cars obey the speed limit today simply as a condition of being used on the public roads. That restriction is unlikely to prevail in production, as a lot of people enjoy driving, and wouldn't buy them if they came with a huge number of restrictions. The rich seem to me to be the last group who will buy such cars.

    Further there is no felony modification laws that I am aware of. As long as the vehicle is street legal just about anything goes. And if its not street legal its merely an infraction and a fix-it-ticket.

    • by csubi ( 950112 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:51PM (#40641537)

      as a lot of people enjoy driving

      I guess you speak of the 17-25 age group. Because I really don't know many working age adults who enjoy driving their daily commute on congested highways.

    • by drouse ( 34156 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:53PM (#40641575) Homepage

      I could see people wanting the laws for autonomous vehicles to follow the laws for aircraft -- where parts and software have to be certified and it is illegal to use non-certified or modified parts. That path would make autonomous vehicles a lot more expensive (and have fewer "toy" features).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parts_Manufacturer_Approval [wikipedia.org]

      I think the real problem with autonomous vehicles is that there is a sizable percentage of people who would "bully" them. You know the thing is going to give you the right of way and slow down to keep a safe distance, so why not cut in front of them, etc. Then who wants a car with a pushover as an automatic pilot? But what lawyer would okay even a slightly aggressive autopilot?

      I'd say autonomous vehicles would be great for taxis in cities with large, dense urban areas ... but the taxi companies would fight that I think (unless they decided they could replace all the drivers with minimum wage button pushers).

      Maybe they would be big in Japan :-)

    • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:27PM (#40642033)
      The OP is confused. Rich people don't care what speed they go at, but they HATE to be kept waiting. So, provided they can use their travelling time productively the speed of getting from A to B is immaterial - within common-sense boundaries. That's why so many of them have drivers (who DO obey speed limits - safety is more important the richer you become).

      Anyway, the truly rich don't travel - people come to them.

      I think the OP is simply projecting their own impatience.

  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@NoSpam.gmail.com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:35PM (#40641283) Journal

    I am poor as fuck and I have a sick fetish for speed!

    • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:48PM (#40641505) Homepage Journal

      Similar reasoning has revealed that rich people also hate waiting in line at the bank, filing their taxes, and telemarketers. In fact, rich people are a lot like you and I—it's just that they're the ones who will most likely be the first adopters of the cars being discussed.

      But wow, what a summary. Not only did it start with a bizarre rhetorical question, it answered it, with a solution that was obvious to anyone who had ever seen Will Smith chase robots around for two hours [imdb.com]! Now all we have left to discuss are minutiae like whether rich people enjoy sleeping in as much as everyone else. Bravo, submitter.

      ...maybe I should lay off the David Mitchell rants.

  • by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:37PM (#40641323)

    "...honking does no good, because robots do not care if you honk at them."

    Not if the auto-pilot is an 800 series terminator.

  • no does the speed limit today on most roads.

    Hell trying to go 55 on any of the Chicago area interstates is not that safe then the roads are wide open.

    even the trucks go 65-70.

  • for poor people (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:38PM (#40641333)

    Self driving cars will be the vehicle of choice for non-rich people. The cars will be programmed to do ride sharing to reduce costs. People who primarily use autonomous vehicles won't need to own a car. Basically they will be like mini-busses that don't follow set routes or schedules. They will be used by people who are taking the bus today.

    Rich people will own their own cars and pay the increased insurance rates to keep the option to drive manually.

  • were I rich, I would be all over autonomous vehicle for a few reasons: 1) you can probably drive it yourself if you want to speed 2) I could hit the pub and get wrecked and have the car drive me home without worrying about getting arrested for DUI
    • were I rich, I would be all over autonomous vehicle for a few reasons:
      1) you can probably drive it yourself if you want to speed
      2) I could hit the pub and get wrecked and have the car drive me home without worrying about getting arrested for DUI

      So, our roads would be safer, but covered in puke?

    • Re:designated driver (Score:5, Interesting)

      by schlesinm ( 934723 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:48PM (#40641499) Homepage

      were I rich, I would be all over autonomous vehicle for a few reasons: 1) you can probably drive it yourself if you want to speed 2) I could hit the pub and get wrecked and have the car drive me home without worrying about getting arrested for DUI

      The way DUI laws are written currently, I wonder if you could get a DUI for being in an autonomous vehicle while intoxicated simply because you have the option of taking over control.

      • Some states you can be arrested for DUI simply by sleeping in your car if you put the keys in the ignition to keep warm. They consider it intent to drive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jeffmeden ( 135043 )

      were I rich, I would be all over autonomous vehicle for a few reasons:
      1) you can probably drive it yourself if you want to speed
      2) I could hit the pub and get wrecked and have the car drive me home without worrying about getting arrested for DUI

      Just don't try the voice activated car options...

      "car, take me to the pub so i can get wrecked"

      "Okay, we are going to wreck into the pub."

    • Or you could pay someone to drive your around. Why go with a robot if money isn't an issue?
  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:39PM (#40641357) Homepage

    If you've ever ridden public transportation, you realize that by not being behind the wheel the need for speed as a passenger is greatly reduced. Similar situation for being a limousine passenger. Pont de l'Alma aside, celebrities for the most part relax while their chauffeurs work to preserve their licenses and future income.

    Now, the rich are always seeking competitive advantage; otherwise, they wouldn't be rich, right? I see the rich buying larger less fuel-efficient vehicles that have a full office inside -- or at least what appears to be a full office -- in order to conduct teleconferences during their trips.

  • by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:40PM (#40641367)

    Mr. Prophet, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  • What a load of (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive ( 1393037 ) <brad.arnett@n o t f orhire.org> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:40PM (#40641375)
    utter supposition and conjecture. "Rich people don't like to go slow"? "...is probably a felony"? "the rich will just get new laws passed"?

    Pull yourself away from your Starbucks latte and at least put some effort into it.
  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:42PM (#40641391) Homepage Journal

    This is just another law that will need to be adjusted. Self-driven cars will need to be able to drive with the flow of traffic to be safe, which may be above the posted speed limit. So the law should allow self-driven cars to exceed speed limits by a given amount if they detect traffic conditions that necessitate it. If an officer disagrees, the car will provide all the data necessary to validate or dispute the claim.

    Of course, once we all have self-driven cars, and speeding tickets cease to be a source of revenue, they'll have to reset all the speed limits to be what is really a safe speed to drive--or just eliminate the concept for self-driven cars once they prove to be able to self-determine a safe speed. That will happen at about the same time human-driven cars are banned from major highways.

  • even not thinking about costs a change over time frame to auto-cars is a long time and there are still likely to be area that will need to be manual drive. As haveing mixed auto drive / manual drive car can lead to some issues.

    Also stuff like Bucket Trucks and other stuff like them on the road will likely also need to be manual drive and at times need to be on auto drive only roads.

  • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:44PM (#40641415)

    Your post is built on assumptions on top of assumptions. Only people who are religious nut jobs, or politicians do this. Nobody likes either.

    Ergo, you have no friends..
    The only reasonable conclusion I can come to about the submitter..

  • If autonomous driving means access to a special lane that moves faster during commute time then the rich will gladly pay up. Hybrids are expensive too and a lot of people bought them so they could drive solo in the carpool lane.

    During heavy commute times, speed limits are largely irrelevant.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:45PM (#40641453) Homepage

    Most people get the market case for automatic driving wrong. It's not for driving on freeways. It's for driving your car without you, to and from parking. You drive to where you want to go, and then your car goes off and parks somewhere. When you want your car back, you call it, and it comes to you. Malls, airports, and downtowns equipped for this will be very popular.

    Parking gets cheaper, because it can be further away, stacked higher, and not on high-value land. Automatic cars aren't bothered by having to drive to level 14 of the parking structure.

    • by naoursla ( 99850 )

      Or parking goes away because instead of going to park, the car you rode in goes off to give someone else a ride. When you want to go somewhere else, you call a car that may or may not be the car you arrived in.

    • Then you get that hollow feeling like I do with my automatic vacuum cleaner. I just got one of those Neato models with the LiDAR. I constantly ask: Did it make it to the charging station? Is it stuck in my bedroom again? There have been a few times when it got stuck and just gave up. I couldn't imagine waiting an indeterminate amount of time to have your car pull up to get you with the wife/gf also waiting.

  • by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:46PM (#40641467) Homepage Journal

    ...with a good car analogy?

  • by e3m4n ( 947977 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:46PM (#40641471)

    if you're allowing the car to self-drive, then chances are you are distracted by some other activity like watching tv/movie, surfing the internet, following up on a litany of work email messages. If you do the math, going 15mph over the speed limit only saves, on average, about 6 - 8 min to destination except for longer trips. Ive wasted more than 6 - 8 min just scanning slashdot this hour. I don't think there would be much notice about not going 'fast'

    for those 1hr commutes just take a nap till you reach destination.

    for those late night bar activities - tell the car to take you home, meanwhile you're crashed in the back seat

  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:51PM (#40641535)
    Most of the time i drive fast because i like driving fast. Honestly the amount of time saved by going 85 or 90 instead of 70 is pretty trivial. But here's the thing about driving fast, at least for me. It's really not the same thing if someone _else_ is driving fast while i'm in the car. At best it makes no impression at all, at worst it's terrifying. You don't get the same sense of zooming down the freeway when you're not at the wheel.

    So i think if you _really_ want to drive fast, you're not going to be interested in an autonomous vehicle. If you're interested in an autonomous vehicle it's because you don't want to deal with the hassle of driving yourself. And if you're kicking back reading or cruising the internet or whatever while the car drives itself, do you really care if a 15 mile commute takes 11 minutes at 85 mph or 13 minutes at 70 mph?

    I'm sure the speed limits will be raised for autonomous vehicles once there are enough of them to make a difference, but it will be purely for logistic reasons, not because rich speed demons are demanding to be driven by a CPU at a higher velocity.

    (And for that matter, the people rich enough to influence laws to that degree already have autonomous vehicles. They come with a special module called a "chauffeur" which can be directed to drive at whatever speed they want, traffic permitting.)
  • by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:51PM (#40641551)
    It is called a proffesional driver. Rich people don't need an expensive robot to drive for them when a cheap employee will do.
  • Faulty premise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:52PM (#40641563)

    Yes, everyone wants to drive fast. But, what's the trade-off for going a little slower? Oh, that's right... HANDING OVER COMPLETE CONTROL.

    If you commute in rush hour traffic, you don't care about the speed limit, because you're not going to get the chance to hit it, anyway.

    What this technology will do, in fact, is encourage longer commutes. People will be able to work, nap, play games, watch TV. The interior of the car will be redesigned to accommodate the driver engaging in a range of activities while commuting.

    I say that automated cars will sell very well.

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:53PM (#40641587) Journal

    This one definitely belongs.

  • by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:59PM (#40641661) Homepage
    Human nature is the cause of most speeding. The "I wanna get there as fast as I can," the "This is fun zipping through traffic" or the "Why won't this guy move over and let me pass" thought processes as well as tendencies to try to keep up with or ahead of other drivers is what leads most people to speed either intentionally or by unintentionally going just a little bit faster and faster until they notice they are flying 85 mph in a 65 zone.

    But with Autonomous cars you take the human nature out of it. Only if I left late will I really want the car to go faster and faster. If I can truly just let the car drive, I don't care how fast it's going, I'm too busy reading my book or surfing the web or engaging in a phone call or text conversation. If I can trust the car to get me there safely, with it able to read and even communicate with the other cars on the road to deal with traffic, road hazards, and other obstacle, I won't be paying attention to what the other cars will be doing.

    Plus once we get the majority of cars on the road so equipped, and they do prove to be safe (substantially reducing the frequency and severity of accidents) I can easily see the speed limits being boosted to match what the cars are capable of.

    Speed itself is rarely the cause of accidents, it's people who are speeding trying to weave through slower traffic, taking curves and corners too fast and encountering unexpected weather conditions (wet or icy roads) while speeding. Autonomous cars, talking to the traffic system and to other cars should be able to more quickly and safely maneuver through traffic, allow for differing speed limits for different lanes of traffic, merge onto and off of freeways more smoothly and safely due to planning and communication with other vehicles to allow merging, no more jumping 5 lanes at the last second because the driver wasn't paying attention and nearly missed his exit.

    Truly autonomous cars should actually be able to travel much faster, far more safely than today. But even if they don't, if the car is driving, not the emotional meatbag behind the wheel, the NEED TO SPEED will greatly drop.
  • by SecurityGuy ( 217807 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:11PM (#40641815)

    Most people stick to 10 mph over anyway. I would much prefer to sit back and read, goof off on my phone, watch TV, or something else at 65 mph than have to drive myself at 73 mph.

  • by Teun ( 17872 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:26PM (#40642025) Homepage
    I know this article was written from a US perspective where the private car has a different meaning as in many other parts of the developed world.
    But however you turn it the first years will likely have a mix of human and automatic vehicles on the road, possibly of even likely with dedicated lanes for each category.

    Present traffic rules including speed limits are set because of a variety of reasons, the quality of the road and human fallibility are among the important. When the human factor is taken out speed limits can and will change.
    In many parts of Europe speed limits are also set because of the environment, like noise in nature reserves and / or Nitric Oxide or fines levels in build up areas, the last will not change because the car is driver less.

    After the transitional years it will become quite pointless to own a car as we know it, you pay for transport the way you are now paying for your internet access.
    And by that time personal transport will have evolved to a new very personal public transport with totally different rules.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham