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California Readies Autonomous Driving Bill

Will authorize testing of driverless vehicles.

by on May.24, 2012

California State Sen. Alex Padilla in a Google autonomous vehicle prototype.

With both Democrats and Republicans in rare agreement, autonomous driving is coming a lot closer to reality in California.

By a vote of 37-0, the California State Senate approved a bill that would next establish guidelines on and oversight of self-driving vehicles.

The bill charges the Department of the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles with providing recommendations to the legislature on “the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on
California’s public roads” with and without a licensed driver present.

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However, the driverless provision can’t come into effect until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration draws up federal guidelines on autonomous cars operated without an operator at least ready to take over in the event of an emergency.

The measure was one of the rare bills to be introduced in California lately to generate bipartisan support, sponsors proclaiming that, “Autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.”

California is the second state after Nevada to make genuine progress on the road to autonomous vehicles, with four other states now considering similar legislation. The CA bill goes to the State Assembly next and is expected to pass.

“Thousands of Californians tragically die in auto accidents each year,” State Senator Alex Padilla said after the vote. “The vast majority of these collisions are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle can analyze the driving environment more quickly and accurately and can operate the vehicle more safely.”

Nevada this month issued its first official autonomous vehicle license to tech giant Google which has been one of the most active proponents of autonomous technology.  (Click Here for that story.) The company operates a small fleet of autonomous test vehicles.

Other makers, including General Motors and Volkswagen, are also working on driverless technology and have been supportive of the Nevada and proposed California legislation.

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