updated 08:23 pm EDT, Mon May 21, 2012
AZ, FL, HI, OK have similar legislation planned
California Senate Bill 1298 unanimously passed the California State Senate today outlining performance and safety requirements for autonomous, or driverless, vehicles on the California roads system. California Highway Patrol would have the responsibility to evaluate the operation of unmanned vehicles. Google, a sponsor of the bill, has tested driverless cars in California in the past.
The bill does not allow for completely unmanned vehicles, but rather routine driver duties are handled by an in-car software agent. This agent makes regular driving decisions regarding safe speed, distance between vehicles, and navigation. Vehicles are required by the California bill to have a licensed driver inside at the controls. This driver is required to be able to take control of the vehicle in the event of abnormal situation or emergency.
Google supports the bill, authored by State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). After the bill passed, Padilla said "Thousands of Californians tragically die in auto accidents each year, the vast majority of these collisions are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle can analyze the driving environment more quickly and accurately and can operate the vehicle more safely."
Other supporters include the Automobile Club of Southern California, the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, TechNet, and TechAmerica. Similar legislation exists in Nevada, but California's bill is more specific in regards to safety standards and enforcement. Google has been approaching the US auto manufacturing industry to gauge demand for construction of driverless cars.