Matt Greenop on motoring
Matt Greenop is editor of Driven magazine

Matt Greenop: Autopilot on the road

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California Gov. Jerry Brown, California State Sen. Alex Padilla and Google co-founder Sergey Brin exit a self-driving car at the Google headquarters. Photo / AP
California Gov. Jerry Brown, California State Sen. Alex Padilla and Google co-founder Sergey Brin exit a self-driving car at the Google headquarters. Photo / AP

California's Department of Motor Vehicles is starting to look at how to cope with regulations for driverless cars - it's either a brave new world, or a petrolhead's worst nightmare.

It is defining testing procedures and the like - and this is only the tip of a large iceberg.

The main impediments to cars driven entirely by computers are legislation and the thorny issue of liability. America's highly litigious approach to, well, almost everything will make the laws written for these autonomous automobiles very complicated indeed. And that could well slow things down - although there are private sector investors like Google, which already has a fleet of Toyota Priuses and Lexus hybrids that can drive without human input.

It's thought such vehicles could be commercial by 2020 - and Google is pushing to make it a manufacturer's job to certify the safety of its vehicles, arguing that government involvement will slow things down.

Considering the number of automotive recalls that occur every year, I'd rather see an official channel for this.

While the thought of cars that drive themselves sends a chill down my spine, there are times when they could be extremely worthwhile. Motorway traffic flows governed by computers would make commuting easier, better and safer.

But the thought of a car that can be driven only by computer is equally terrifying - no steering wheel, no input, no fun.

In the early days of these robot rides, at least, a human will be required to take over if things go wrong. But it'll be only a matter of time before many of these machines will be soulless boxes.

Another issue the DMV uncovered when it opened a public consultation process this week was privacy. For liability's sake - and to make sense of things if it does all go horribly wrong - cars store logs of all activity. Consumer Watchdog said cars "must not become another way to track us in our daily lives", but this becomes irrelevant considering cameras with plate-reading technology are now commonplace.

What worries you about this issue? Let us know below or facebook.com/DrivenNZ

- NZ Herald

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