But I agree that, as a matter of principle, letting them mimic the monkey drivers would be a BAD IDEA
I disagree, matters of principle are about principle and nothing to do with safety.
As you rightly pointed out context is everything and by definition a self driving car will be more aware of its environment thus better able to decide whether such a manoeuvre was sensible.
One of the problems with monkeys is their monkey brains.
I once saw a 4 car crash because some idiot came through the lights with his hand on the horn because his lights had just changed but there were still cars on the junction.
A car accelerating hard off the line, hand on horn panicked those on the junction with somewhat predictable results.
The same happens with emergency vehicles, if it is necessary to mount the pavement then doing it under duress is error prone at best.
In that respect a self driving car can perform a perfectly rational move, are there people on the pavement? Does it make sense to move onto it here or should I move further along - can I even get on the pavement further along?
So in my opinion it all comes down to context.
Should self driving cars routinely be allowed for no good reason to break the rules? Obviously not.
Should self driving cars be allowed to break rules under certain conditions? Absolutely.