On Wednesday morning at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Gov. Jerry Brown joined Google co-founder Sergey Brin on stage to usher in a new era of self-driving automobiles in America’s Golden State.
Gov. Brown signed the bill also known as SB 1298 into law on Wednesday, which makes California the third state to enact autonomous vehicle legislation after Google helped pass a similar bill in Florida earlier this year and in Nevada last February.
The new California state law, which was authored and sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-L.A.), creates safety and performance standards that can be enforced by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Patrol, including the requirement to have a licensed driver behind the wheel at all times, even though the car can drive itself, just in case something goes awry. The law also requires the California DMV to draft a handful of regulations for self-driving vehicles by Jan. 1, 2015.
“Thousands of Californians tragically die in auto accidents each year,” Padilla said after the bill unanimously passed through the California State Senate in May. “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.”
Given California’s strong car culture and reputation for traffic congestion, Padilla’s goal was to ensure his state remained on the cutting-edge of autonomous vehicle technology to make transportation less error-prone and more efficient.
“Developing and deploying autonomous vehicles will not only save lives, it will create jobs,” Padilla said in May. “California is uniquely positioned to be the global leader in this field.”
Several other US states are currently considering autonomous vehicle legislation, including Hawaii, Arizon and Oklahoma. Google has been helping all of these individual state efforts, and for the California bill, the search giant’s participation spurred along even more support for the law, thanks to contributions from the California foundation for Independent Living Centers, the Automobile Club of Southern California, as well as TechAmerica and TechNet.
Google, however, has shouldered most of the burden when it comes to the actual self-driving technology. According to Brin, Google has logged more than 300,000 miles in its autonomous vehicle armada, which includes Toyota Prius hybrids and Lexus RX crossovers. Stanford University also contributed while working with Volkswagen and Audi in Silicon Valley, and several other automakers have announced their own plans to explore autonomous vehicle technology at low speeds, including Ford, Volvo, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac, the last of which has already promised to deliver a “Super Cruise” system within a few years.
The technology is quickly getting adopted by the auto industry, but what remains to be seen is if consumers will buy into the trend and take it mainstream.
“Anyone who gets behind the wheel of an [autonomous] car is going to be a little skittish,” Gov. Brown said at Wednesday’s event. “But they’ll get over it.”