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Self-drive autos raise privacy concerns

A bill that establishes guidelines for 'autonomous vehicles' to be tested and operated in California should be amended to provide adequate privacy protection for users of the technology, a consumer group says.

May 31, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

A bill that would allow self-driving cars on California's roads may improve traffic safety but it does not do enough to protect privacy, a consumer group said.

The bill, SB 1298, sponsored by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), is awaiting Assembly consideration in June. It establishes guidelines for "autonomous vehicles" to be tested and operated in California.

So far, it has flown through the Legislature, passing the Senate unanimously in mid-May.

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 has said computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans do.

Still, the legislation should be amended to provide adequate privacy protection for users of the technology, Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, said in a letter Wednesday to Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles).

"Without appropriate regulations, Google's vehicles will be able to gather unprecedented amounts of information about the use of those vehicles. How will it be used? Just as Google tracks us around the information superhighway, it will now be looking over our shoulders on every highway and byway," Court wrote.

"The bill should be amended to ban all data collection by autonomous cars," the letter said.

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," Padilla said.

Padilla has contended that autonomous vehicles represent an important transportation advance and that California should make sure that it is at the center of the technology.

"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 when his bill passed the Senate. "For me this is a matter of safety."

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

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

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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