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California Law Allows for Self-Driving Cars

Google co-founder hopes autonomous cars will be a reality within five years.

by on Sep.26, 2012

Google has been testing a fleet of self-driving cars, mostly Toyota Priuses. A new California law sets up regulations that allow them on public roads.

Coming to a street near you – the car that drives itself while its human “driver” reads the newspaper.

California Gov. Jerry Brown visited Google headquarters in Mountain View where he signed a law Tuesday to establish safety standards and regulations for autonomous vehicles.

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Does this mean Californians will start seeing driverless cars plying the 405 within the next few weeks? Not quite. Implementation of the new vehicles is still a few years off.

“Autonomous vehicles are another example of how California’s technological leadership is turning today’s science fiction into tomorrow’s reality,” Brown said after taking spin in a self-driving car. “This law will allow California’s pioneering engineers to safely test and implement this amazing new technology.”

Before signing the bill, Brown said skeptics will wonder if the cars are safe.

“Anybody who first gets in the car and finds the car is driving will be a little skittish,” Brown said when reporters asked him whether the California Highway Patrol is on board, “but they’ll get over it.”

Google says it has logged more than 300,000 miles in its fleet of 12 self-driving cars, mostly Toyota Priuses. The company said 50,000 of those miles were with no involvement from a driver and there have been no accidents when the car has been controlled by computers.

But some think California and other states that have approved self-driving cars are moving too quickly.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers expressed concern that California hasn’t sorted out liability issues, among other concerns.

“Unfortunately this legislation lacks any provision protecting an automaker whose car is converted to an autonomous operation vehicle without the consent or even knowledge of that auto manufacturer,” the trade group said in a statement.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the driving force behind Google’s self-driving car project, said self-driving cars will be safer than human-driven cars.

Asked who would be liable if a self-driving car ran a red light, Brin said: “Self-driving cars don’t run red lights.”

He said self-driving cars will provide a myriad of benefits including improved safety, reduced emissions, less congestion and more productivity.

“Self-driving cars can transform lives and communities, providing transportation to those not currently served, increasing safety on the road, reducing or eliminating congestion, and turning parking into parkland,” Brin said.

The new law allows driverless cars to be operated on public roads for testing purposes, provided that each vehicle has a licensed and bonded operator in the driver’s seat to take control if necessary. The bill also instructs the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern the licensing, bonding, testing and operation of autonomous vehicle technology.

Click here to find out what researchers think drivers will do while riding in self-driving cars.

Brin said he hopes self-driving cars will be available to the public within five years.

Nevada, where Google has done some of its testing, was the first state to allow the autonomous cars.

Click here to read about Nevada’s law.

California’s law, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, will allow driverless cars to be operated on public roads for testing purposes, provided that each vehicle has a fully licensed and bonded operator in the driver’s seat to take control if necessary. The bill also instructs the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern the licensing, bonding, testing and operation of autonomous vehicle technology.

The cars use a variety of sensors, cameras and artificial intelligence to help guide the car.

Other researchers are working on technology that would allow cars to talk to each other and the surrounding infrastructure. Called IntelliDrive, the system promises many of the same benefits as Google’s self-driving cars.

Click here to read about IntelliDrive. 

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