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When a bicycle meets a driverless car

What happens when a bicyclist encounters a “driverless” car? That’s probably not a big concern now, but as technology continues to evolve, the day may come when cyclists and bicycle law will have to adapt to driverless (or “self-driving”) cars.

There’s not much hard data yet, but one anecdote indicates the cyclist might have the upper hand. A rider in Austin, Texas,described his encounter with a driverless car in an online forum. He was waiting at a four-way stop, with a driverless car also at the intersection. The bicyclist was doing a track stand (rocking back and forth to stay upright). The car sensed his small movements and kept starting and stopping.

He wrote, “We repeated this little dance for about 2 full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. The two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation.”

One auto company executive sees bicycles as a particular problem for driverless cars. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault, said bicycles confuse driverless cars because “from time-to-time they behave like pedestrians and from time-to-time they behave like cars.”

Google, a major force in developing driverless cars, discussed bicycles in a blog post, which includes a video of what happened when one of their test vehicles encountered a bicycle. Google says their cars “treat cyclists as a special category of moving objects.” In the video, the car senses a cyclist’s hand signals and yields to the bicycle.

If and when driverless cars become common, traffic law will have to evolve to accommodate the new technology, just like communications and copyright law evolved with development of the internet. To learn more about current and emerging issues in bicycle law, contact California attorney Gary Brustin.

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