Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that would allow self-driving cars on California roads.
Brown signed the bill Tuesday at a ceremony at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
"We are looking at science fiction becoming reality in a self-driving car," Brown said.
Tech giant Google Inc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop vehicles that 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.
"These vehicles have the potential to avoid accidents.… We can save lives, create jobs and reduce congestion," said Google co-founder Sergey Brin. "I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human-driven cars."
Brin said autonomous cars could be functional and safe for operation on public streets within a few years.
The bill, SB1298, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), establishes guidelines for autonomous vehicles to be tested and operated in California.
"We are stepping on the accelerator when it comes to the Google car," Padilla said.
Human error causes most traffic accidents and autonomous technology can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California's roads, he said.
Padilla 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 meet all applicable safety standards and performance requirements in state and federal law
• Allows the California 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.