A 10-passenger bus in Trikala, Greece has been providing free service for six months. 11,302 passengers have ridden it for a total of 3500 kilometers without an accident (other than driving up a sidewalk).
“It’s the first time someone dared to bring a totally automated vehicle into open traffic,” Angelos Amditis tells Popular Science. Amditis is the research director at Greece's Institute of Communication and Computer Systems, which is handling the technical side of the project. Previously, automated vehicles in Greece were either operated only in segregated lanes or exhibition areas, or under the supervision of a professional driver in case of emergency. There’s no human backup for Trikala’s six automated buses, which operate surrounded by other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
New laws had to be passed to make way for the project, and even so the buses operate under strict limitations. The maximum permitted speed is around 12 miles per hour. While other drivers can merge into its lane, a bus isn’t allowed to change lanes or make turns—it just drives a short circular route. And if there’s any obstacle in its path, it sits there and waits for the object to move. “We have to be strict,” says Amditis. When humans crash, it’s an accident, but a crash involving an automated vehicle would be a political mess, “even if there’s a hundred less accidents overall.”