As drivers go, the computers that run Google’s driverless cars are pretty good.
The 53 autonomous vehicles fielded by the company have driven more than 1.4 million miles, and only been involved in 17 crashes. Get this: None were the fault of the computer, until recently, when a driverless car trying to avoid an obstruction in the roadway hit a bus at low speeds.
But that story got me thinking: Since Nevada wants to be home for the testing of unmanned aerial vehicles, and since Gov. Brian Sandoval has already taken a ride in a driverless car, and since we’re looking to become the center of innovation and jobs for the next century, we should induce Google to test their driverless cars right here in Las Vegas.
In fact, we provide the perfect place to do it.
First of all, as any Las Vegan will tell you, we are home to the world’s worst drivers. It’s like the rest of the country revoked the licenses of their 1,000 worst offenders and gave them a free ticket to Las Vegas, where they practice the worst habits from back home on a daily basis.
Who hasn’t seen the infamous Interstate 15 Lane Jumper, weaving to and fro, endangering everybody else just to save a couple minutes on the morning commute? Or the even more infamous U.S. 95 Lane Sitter, who grabs the “fast” lane, sets the cruise control at 65 mph and tells the rest of the world to go … faster by passing on the right.
Google computers need to know what to do when driving behind somebody who’s creeping along a surface street at 20 mph below the limit, who suddenly swerves across three lanes to make a turn at the next intersection. The driverless cars need to know to watch for people who stop in strip-mall driveways, spot you coming, and cut in front of you anyway.
And the cars need to be programmed with the knowledge that if you call out a bad Las Vegas driver in any way, he will respond with gestures, road rage and perhaps even violence, like you’re the villain for pointing out his bad behavior. Try to write an algorithm to understand that, Google!
Not only do we have the world’s worst drivers, but we also have some of the worst traffic management anywhere in the country, which makes for a challenging environment for regular humans, to say nothing of robot vehicles. Roads are constantly and inexplicably under construction, re-construction or re- re-construction. Cone zones sit for months without a single human present. Roads end in desert dead-ends, and even change names.
From our counter-intuitive freeway overpasses (if you want to go to the left, stay right!), to our special head-on collision friendly freeway exits, to the worst-timed lights in the English-speaking world, Las Vegas features some of the most confounding, logic-free streets in the world.
In fact, a good place to start Google field testing might be Grand Central Parkway, the road that runs right by the headquarters of the Regional Transportation Commission. That road features nine stop lights along a distance of about 1.2 miles, or nearly one every one-tenth of a mile. Not even a Cray supercomputer could make it through that street without getting stopped. Good luck, Google!
Bottom line: If Google cars can learn to drive in Las Vegas, they can learn to drive anywhere! So let’s grab a piece of that future, and hope those cars don’t gain self-awareness and start killing us humans.
After all, we probably did something to deserve it.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Read his blog at SlashPolitics.com, follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.