Designated drivers may be robots
May 21, 2012
Vehicles without drivers may soon be zipping around California streets and highways following unanimous approval Monday by the state Senate of authorizing legislation.
If the Assembly endorses S.B 1298 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the governor will have the opportunity to make California only the second in the Union to legalize the operation of “autonomous” vehicles. Nevada legalized the use of such vehicles last year, and four other state lawmaking bodies are presently considering it.
A “robotic” or “self-driving” vehicle is capable of sensing its environment and navigating on its own, using laser, radar, GPS, and computer vision.
Over the years, car manufacturers have introduced a variety of semi-autonomous technologies including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, pre-collision braking, and even self-parking.
“Thousands of Californians tragically die in auto accidents each year,” said Padilla moments after passage of his bill in the Upper House. “The vast majority of these collisions are due to human error. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. I envision a future that includes self-driving cars. Establishing safety standards for these vehicles is an essential step in that process.”
The bill has the support of the Automobile Club of Southern California, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, TechNet, Google, Inc., and TechAmerica. Google’s self-driving vehicles alone have been safely test-driven more than 200,000 miles in California.
Padilla’s bill would set up safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways; allow a licensed driver to operate an autonomous vehicle in California; require that an autonomous vehicle meet all applicable safety standards and performance requirements in state and federal law; and allow the Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles to recommend to the legislature additional requirements.