Gov. Brown signs Driverless Cars Bill into law

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Knight Rider

The driverless cars being tested today may not be self-aware, like KITT from 'Knight Rider.' -- Yet. Image: ewen and donabel/Flickr/CC BY

California Governor Jerry Brown rode to Google headquarters in Mountain View Tuesday aboard a Prius that was driving itself. He was there to sign a bill into law that establishes regulating standards for driverless cars.

Driverless Cars Bill reads like science-fiction

After his journey by magic Toyota, Governor Brown spoke at a signing ceremony for the driverless cars bill:

“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality. The self-driving car.”

The driverless cars being tested today may not yet be the self-aware KITT car of “Knight Rider,” but the law certainly does read like science fiction.

Law of the land

The bill’s author, Democratic Senator Alex Padilla, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin were also in attendance.

Although not tectonically against the law, the bill does not green-light the consumer use of driverless cars. It is designed to establish safety and performance regulations and to pave the way for the time when the vehicles will be available.

Brin said:

“It’s basically a very long list of edge cases. We’re getting through a long list of eventualities.”

The near future

But that time may not be as far off as the George Jetson and his flying car. Brin said that Google’s interest is in the technology and not in the building of autonomous cars. However, he did say:

“You can count on one hand the number of years before people can experience this.”

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The power to change lives

Google has around a dozen driverless cars traversing real roads and highways in Southern California. The company says the vehicles have logged 300,000 miles with zero accidents.

Google’s co-founder said:

“It really has the power to change people’s lives, that’s why I’m really excited about it. There are many, many people who are under-served by our transportation system today.”

The autonomous car, Brin said, can virtually eliminate traffic accidents and give freedom to the blind, disabled and elderly. It also has the potential of making impaired driving and distracted driving into non-issues.

Driverless cars that can communicate with one another also have the potential of reducing traffic congestion and eliminating gridlock. An autonomous vehicle that knows the location and speed of all the other vehicles around it can move more quickly and smoothly in traffic than would be possible with a human operator.

Always a critic

Still, there are always critics. The trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, issued a statement expressing concerns about liability. It read, in part:

“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.”


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