Can Boston Defeat the Self-Driving Car?

4-way stop

Have you heard? The self-driving car is here!

Oh, I know. You’re skeptical, aren’t you? Couldn’t possibly work, you’re thinking.

Well, I was, too–until I watched this video:

It shows a gentleman with impaired vision who was able to take a self-driving car to run errands. He picked up his dry cleaning and ordered lunch at a drive-thru restaurant. These simple tasks represented a new level of independence for him, so I could understand the positive aspects of such a car. Of course, the car is still being developed and one article I read in the MIT Technology Review listed some problems that still have to be resolved.

First of all, every road and driveway must be mapped and re-mapped so that the car can navigate its way from Point A to Point B and back. Google has only mapped 1% of the United States, so it will be a while before most of us can take our self-driving car out for a spin.

Another problem is that the cars can’t recognize open manhole covers or potholes. That would be an issue in the town where I live, because the streets department can’t seem to apply a fix to a pothole that lasts longer than a week.

The real deal breaker is that the cars can’t drive in rain or snow, and that is a mighty big wrinkle to iron out.

I can see some other problems that the designers of such cars may not have considered, and here I’m thinking of how a self-driving car would fare in Boston traffic. Drivers in the other New England states refer to Massachusetts drivers as, well, “Mass-holes” and for good reason.

Here are some scenarios particular to Boston drivers that the driverless car folks might not have thought of. Each of them involves left turns. These are driving techniques unique to eastern Massachusetts, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Pretend you are a Boston driver and answer the following questions.

 1. Pulling out into traffic

Picture this: You are driving down a quiet side street that ends at a very busy 2-lane state route. You need to make a left turn but there is no let up in the traffic on the state route. What do you do?

a. Wait patiently until it is safe to make your turn.

b. Give up and make a right turn, then find a safe place to turn around.

c. Push your way out into the first lane of approaching traffic until you block it and force the cars to stop. Keep blocking that lane until you can complete the left turn. This usually happens when the traffic in the other lane stops to let you in.

2. Turning left in an intersection

You are driving down a busy street and stop to make a left turn onto a side street. You turn on your turn signal and then:

a. Wait patiently until it is safe to make your turn.

b. Give up and continue driving straight.

c. Stand your ground and wait for an approaching car in the left lane to stop and flash the headlights. You then complete your left turn, giving a little wave to the driver who stopped.

3. Turning left at a 4-way Stop

You approach a busy intersection where there is a 4-way stop. Cars are backed up in each direction. You need to make a left turn at the intersection. Do you:

a. Pay attention to the other cars. Let the cars pass through the intersection in the order in which they stopped. When it is your turn, you can safely make the left turn.

b. Pay attention to the other cars. If you and another car stop at the same time, the car on the right goes first.

c. Come to a rolling stop, then force your car into the intersection and make the left turn.

Answers: For all questions, “C” is the Boston answer. “A” and “B” are the correct answers.

So, Google and all the other developers of self-driving cars, let’s see how you handle these driving quirks. I suggest you start slowly to prepare the cars for Boston drivers by first programming them to drive through a Dodgem’ ride at your nearest amusement park.

Good luck.

Photo credit: Wikipedia
Photo credit: Wikipedia

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