WASHINGTON - Driverless cars, such as those being developed by Google, could be lethal weapons, the FBI has warned in a report.

The internal report, obtained by the Guardian, a British newspaper, noted that criminals using automated cars would have both hands free and be able to take their eyes off the road during a car chase. But it said that driverless vehicles could help the emergency services by automatically clearing a path for them. In the report, which was marked restricted and obtained under a public records request, the FBI predicted the vehicles “will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car”.

And, under the heading “Multitasking”, the FBI said that “bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road which would be impossible today”. That raised the prospect that suspected criminals would be able to fire weapons at pursuing police cars. The report, which was produced by the FBI’s Directorate of Intelligence, predicted that “autonomy… will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon than it is today”, the Guardian reported.

The vehicles are currently being tested by Google and, according to the FBI, could be approved in the US within the next five to seven years. Other firms are also developing forms of automated driving. In June this year, it was announced that the British government was rewriting the highway code to allow for driverless cars.

The FBI report runs contrary to the message that self-driving vehicle developers are trying to put out the cars are safer than those operated by people.

Google has stated of its prototype that: “They’ll be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention. Our software and sensors do all the work. The vehicles will be very basic but they will take you where you want to go at the push of a button.”

However, the FBI does anticipate some benefits when it comes to catching criminals.

“Surveillance will be made more effective and easier, with less of a chance that a patrol car will lose sight of a target vehicle,” said the report.

“In addition, algorithms can control the distance that the patrol car is behind the target to avoid detection or intentionally have a patrol car make opposite turns at intersections, yet successfully meet up at later points with the target.”