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California Senate passes bill for self-driving cars

The measure sets guidelines for 'autonomous vehicles' to be tested and operated in California. It now goes to the Assembly for consideration next month.

May 21, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
(KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages )

A bill that would allow self-driving cars on California's roads has passed the California Senate.

The bill, SB1298, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), establishes guidelines for "autonomous vehicles" to be tested and operated in California. The bill now goes to the Assembly for consideration next month.

Tech giant Google Inc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop such vehicles, which use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. Google Inc. has said that computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans.

Padilla said his bill passed Monday without objection.

A number of lawmakers test drove Google's prototype autonomous Prius and "came away convinced that fostering this technology is the right direction for California," he said.

"Human error is the cause of almost every accident on the road today. If autonomous technology can reduce the number of accidents, then we also reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California's roads," Padilla said. "For me this is a matter of safety."

Padilla added that he believes self-driving cars also will improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles, reduce emissions and enable cars to talk to one another to improve traffic flow.

Self-driving cars must legally have a person at the wheel, ready to assume control if anything goes wrong.

The bill does the following:

•Sets up safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California's public roads;

•Allows for the operation of autonomous vehicles on California's public roads by a licensed driver;

•Requires that an autonomous vehicle meets all applicable safety standards and performance requirements in state and federal law;

•Allows the Highway Patrol, in consultation with the Department of Motor Vehicles, to recommend to the Legislature additional requirements for the safe operation of such vehicles on California's roads.

Last year, similar legislation was signed into law in Nevada. In addition, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are considering autonomous-vehicle legislation.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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