Speed Limits on Driverless Cars?

When Adaptive Cruise Control goes on steroids in the era of driverless cars, will there be any rationale for limiting car speed?

Do you love the cruise control in your car?

That’s always a good conversation starter. Some of us love it. But, a majority of American drivers use it less than once a month. Risks of accidents from drowsiness increase by 25 percent when cruise control is used. On the other hand, gasoline consumption drops 14 percent when using it.

Cruise control, actually, is only partial control. Because it still requires the driver to steer, brake and attend to other traffic.

In the era of driverless cars, those attention-taxing annoyances will end. Our cars will do the steering, the braking and look out for other vehicles. We’ll be free to text while getting to our destination.

In fact, it’s already partially here – called adaptive cruise control. Cars equipped with ACC actually slow down and brake if another vehicle is detected. Drivers can let their concentration slip and still be protected: ACC now protects drivers with ADD.

  Related: Driverless Cars & the Trolley Problem

Moving Beyond Adaptive Cruise Control

So, let’s fast forward to the era when cruise control does it all – driving, steering, braking and protecting its passengers.

Should that change our views on speed limits?

Today, there are no speed limits on Germany’s Autobahn. You can drive as fast as you like. Average speed is 80 MPH. (So, careful drivers averaging 60 MPH means others are driving over 100 MPH). According to the National Motorist Association, fatality rates do not increase when individuals speed.

Speed limits exist mostly to protect us from human error. Faster speeds require faster reaction time, often exceeding our capacities. That’s the greater danger.

But, with driverless cars, when our speed is controlled by micro-chips, reactions can happen at the speed of light. Which is probably faster than many of us will want to drive.

  Related: How Old Should My Kids Be, Alone in a Driverless Car?

The Equation for Speed Limits

An equation seems to be forming: Limits on speed are directly proportional to the consequence of an error. Or the likelihood of an accident. Human error, or computer error, requires speed limits so errors are not fatal. Congested streets (such as urban settings) have more cars and pedestrians, increasing the chances of a collision. Speed limits are correspondingly reduced. Less error, and less complexity, reduces the need for speed limits.

The equation would indicate that when (a) error is negligible; and (b) complexity is low, then speed limits are not needed. At all.

It works on German highways, even accounting for human error. Seems natural to expect that to happen, too, on American roads, in the era of driverless cars.

But, will lawmakers have the backbone to eliminate speed limits? Rationally, they should. Emotionally, and politically, they may not. Revenue from speeding tickets (now $6.2 billion annually) will mostly disappear. They’ll have to raise taxes in other areas to make up for the shortfall. Ouch.

For believers in cruise control, let’s hope rational thinking outweighs emotions and politics.

Because, I can’t wait to go 190 MPH on I-80 in my eight-cylinder Mustang GT.

And lap Kyle Busch.

Article written by: Charles Bogle 3.0.  Submitted: 3/14/17

Comments & thoughts to: cb@dryve.com


Do you think we should be getting rid of speed limits?

Or, if not, what should be the speed limit for driverless cars?


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