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Google Self-Driving Car Gets Pulled Over, Cop Finds No Driver to Ticket

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One of Google's fleet of electric self-driving cars was pulled over by a police officer yesterday in Mountain View, California. The reason: going too slow. The vehicle was traveling 24 miles per hour (mph) in a 35-mph zone, backing up traffic, the Mountain View Police Department said.

“Driving too slowly? Bet humans don’t get pulled over for that too often,” said the Google car team in a Google+ post. “We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25 mph for safety reasons.” If you're wondering how the officer even managed to pull over a self-driving car, there is a human passenger who can manually take over the vehicle at any time.

The car wasn't actually violating the law, so no citation was given. Google autonomous cars are only allowed to operate on roads with speed limits at or under 35 mph because Google sets the speed so low. Since the speed limit was 35 mph, the Google car was driving lawfully, the Mountain View Police Department said.

"Like this officer, people sometimes flag us down when they want to know more about our project. After 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving (that’s the human equivalent of 90 years of driving experience), we’re proud to say we’ve never been ticketed," boasted the Google car team.

While some (myself included) find the idea of driving behind a car going 24 mph in a 35-mph zone painful, others pointed out that at least it was driving safely. Remember, about 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, which are the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29.

The technology for self-driving cars has been making major in-roads in recent years. Several major car companies, including Ford and Mercedes-Benz, are developing self-driving cars. But it's obviously not just car companies. Tech companies such as Google and Apple are getting into the game as well.

“It seems like every billionaire with a tech company is working on a self-driving car,” joked Stephen Colbert on the Late Show last month. When Tesla updated its fleet of electric cars with an autopilot feature last month, Colbert told Late Show viewers, "this technology is self-driving towards us whether we like it or not.”

Be that as it may, the technology is still in its infancy. Tesla's feature makes the car semi-autonomous, though Tesla CEO Elon Musk estimates that a fully autonomous car is only a few years away. And despite Musk's warnings that "the software is still very new" and drivers should be very careful, there were still, of course, some hiccups. One Tesla driver wasn't as lucky as the Google car when he was pulled over by the Florida highway patrol. He had set his autopilot for 75 mph in a 60-mph zone. When Tesla issued the update, it cautioned drivers that they are "still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.” If a Tesla on autopilot gets in an accident, it will still be the driver’s fault.

Last month, drivers of a Tesla Model S completed a cross-country road trip in record time for an electric vehicle—and the car drove itself almost the entire way.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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