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California Senate approves self-driving cars

Last month, a bill to authorize the continued use and testing of self-driving vehicles easily passed the California state Senate. The bill now goes to the state Assembly for consideration.

The legislation will allow Google, Caltech and other organizations to continue developing and testing autonomous vehicles, which use radar, lasers and video cameras to navigate the roads. Although it seems illogical, Google says that self-driving cars could actually decrease the number of car accidents on California roads because they would not rely on humans, who are prone to distraction, sleepiness and poor decision-making behind the wheel.

The technology may also improve fuel efficiency and reduce vehicle emissions. Cars will also be able to "talk" to one another and thereby improve traffic flow on busy California roads and freeways.

Specifically, the bill:

  • permits self-driving vehicles to be operated by a licensed driver on California roads,
  • establishes safety and performance standards for the safe operation of self-driving vehicles,
  • requires that self-driving cars meet all applicable state and federal laws and safety standards, and
  • allows the California Highway Patrol and Department of Motor Vehicles to recommend additional safety features and requirements for the vehicles.

According to California Senator Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill, safety was his main motivation for introducing the legislation. "Human error is the cause of almost every accident on the road today," he said. "If autonomous technology can reduce the number of accidents, then we also reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California's roads."

"For me this is a matter of safety," he added.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Plan for self-driving cars passes California Senate hurdle," Jerry Hirsch, May 21, 2012

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