California Governor Gives Green Light to Driverless Cars

The governor of California, Jerry Brown, signed into law a bill to legalize self-driving cars onto public roads.

Gov. Jerry Brown arrived at the Googleplex in Mountain View Tuesday afternoon in a self-driving Toyota Prius to sign legislation which gives green light to driverless cars in California. Photo: denieseclariz/Flickr

Governor Brown came to Google headquarters to sign SB 1298, a bill that “creates a legal framework and safety standards for autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.”

“We’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality,” Brown said just before signing the papers.

The bill, proposed by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, is believed to establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways, The Daily Star writes.

“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality – the self-driving car,” Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.”

The searching giant has been working on driverless technology for two years, including testing a fleet of self-driving cars along California roadways.

“It’s significant because California is a big state, a first mover and really a big player,” said Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who studies autonomous vehicle law. “It’s a good signal for the other states.”

The designed self-driving cars rely on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to help navigation, the company explains.

“I think the self driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who pointed to uses ranging from aiding the blind, ferrying revelers who drank too much, to simply making better use of commuting time.

Self-driven cars can make roads safer, releave commuters from driving and provide transport to people who can’t drive themselves, such as the blind, disabled, elderly and intoxicated.

“I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human-driven cars,” Brin said.

He went on, suggesting that by driving closer together more safely than human-driven cars do, that drive themselves might cut congestion.

However, it’s still unclear whether the company is going to make its own driverless cars.

“We have had great conversations with a variety of automakers,” Brin said. “Anything we do is going to be in partnership with the industry.”

However, lawyers claim that technically, such cars are not illegal, because there is no law that says cars must have drivers.

The Google cars have been driving on California roads for a couple of years, including down Highway 1, a treacherous stretch overlooking the ocean, reports The New York Times.

But Google —as well as other companies and research institutions developing the technology — seek ways to make the cars explicitly legal. Nevada and Florida have also legalized the cars.

“Because it’s going to look strange to a sheriff driving by, and to remove uncertainty, what they want is a pronouncement that yes, it’s O.K. to be driving cars around here without a driver,” Mr. Calo said.

Meanwhile, Californians are looking forward to a day when their cars could drive themselves, as long as they could do it safely.

“It would make our streets safer,” said Barrett Howard, 33, an auto technician. “We wouldn’t have to worry about people texting or getting sidetracked. The computer will take over, and it will make life easier.”

Abraham Eshel, a retired mechanical engineer who has vision problems, said self-driving cars would make his life easier, too.

“If I could tell my car, ‘OK, you take over when it’s dark,’ and I don’t have to worry about it, that would be fantastic,” said Eshel, who lives in nearby Los Altos. “It’s a good idea. Why not make progress if it’s possible?”

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