Speeding Is a Big Problem Where Police Stopped Google Car for Slow Driving

A Google car made headlines last week when police pulled it over for driving too slowly on El Camino Real in Mountain View, California.

El Camino Real in Mountainview is a pretty dangerous street for pedestrians, but apparently police are out patrolling for cars not going fast enough. Image: Metrocosm via Cyclelicious
El Camino Real in Mountain View is a dangerous street for pedestrians because drivers go too fast, not because they go slower than the speed limit. Image: Metrocosm via Cyclelicious

Most media accounts treated the incident as a funny anecdote, but Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious says it reveals a lot about what’s broken with how police approach traffic enforcement:

Guess which area of Mountain View is the most dangerous for pedestrians?

I zoomed in on this map showing 10 years of FARS traffic fatality data. El Camino Real is highlighted in blue. The yellow line to the left is Rengstorff, the other line is El Monte.

This is the area where Mountain View police say a Google autonomous car traveling at 24 MPH in a 35 zone is impeding traffic, even with two other lanes available for passing traffic on a Thursday afternoon.

Danger is high because Mountain View police prioritize speed over safety in spite of the heavy pedestrian traffic. This is the same department that routinely cites cyclists who “take the lane” on multi-lane roads in which the right-hand lane is too narrow to share. Numerous bike educators, safety experts, and cyclist advocates have explained the exceptions to CVC 21202 (California’s far right law) over the years, but to no avail. If you look at the SWITRS map, you’ll see California Street just to the north — a designated bike route — is another hot spot for pedestrians and cyclists…

I wonder how many tickets are written on El Camino Real for those who drive 9 MPH over the limit?

Google, for its part, has issued a pretty commendable response, saying, “We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25mph for safety reasons. We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets.”

Elsewhere on the Network today: FABB Blog highlights Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s recent speech cautioning Southern states against relying too much on road expansions. Human Transit wonders if driverless cars will produce a big increase in vehicle miles traveled. And Pedestrian Observations picks apart the cost estimates for major passenger rail projects in the Northeast.