by MATT GALLAGHER, Red Herring
California became the third state to legalize self driving cars, thanks to a special visit to Google’s Mountainview headquarters by Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the legislation after taking a “test drive” in a Google driverless vehicle, according to Tecca. Though Google has had robot cars on California roads since 2010, and the practice has always been officially legal as there was no legislation to prevent it, the state passed the law in order to make it official before any anti-self driving legislation reared its ugly head in the state.
Though California was the first place Google tested the cars, Nevada and Florida beat the sunshine state to make the practice officially legal. Its fleet of a dozen robot cars has logged more than 300,000 miles. The only accidents that have ever taken place with the self driving cars were the fault of another driver.
“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality — the self-driving car,” Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.”
Google’s cars use sensors, cameras and computers to navigate traffic, and are programmed to establish a boundary between themselves and other obstacles at all times. A human driver remains at the controls to take over if the system should fail. Google touts that the cars are far more safer than a human driver, which can get drunk, fall asleep behind the wheel or simply not pay attention.
“I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin stated. “I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human-driven cars.”
Some, however, have argued that California has adopted self driving cars too quickly, and that liability issues first need to be sorted out.
“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,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement.
The law calls for the California Department of Motor Vehicles to set regulations for self driving vehicles by 2015.
What does this mean for life on the road? Not much for a while, aside from the occasional robot car sighting in a California traffic jam. When Nevada laws were passed, officials stated the most likely use for the cars would first be self-driving taxis or pizza delivery vehicles. All in all, however, our great grandchildren might get to skip driver’s ed. Wired predicts that drivers licenses will be a thing of the past by 2040. The publication noted that Audi and BMW are working on similar technology that could be on the road in a few years. ABI Research claims car companies have spent more than $10 billion on self driving cars in 2011 alone, expected to jump to $130 billion by 2016.