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Nevada Becomes First State to Pass Law Authorizing Driverless Cars

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Nevada First State to Pass Driverless Car LegislationNevada recently became the first state to pass a law giving the go-ahead to driverless cars, which can navigate streets, highways, and even winding mountain roads by using GPS, radar, lasers, cameras, and artificial intelligence.

As Colin Bird writes on the Kicking Tires blog:

Specifically, the law authorizes Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with rules that would allow for the free operation of autonomous vehicles on state highways. The department will have until March 2012 to implement the new rules. An operator of an autonomous vehicle would still need a current state driver’s license.

Nevada created the law after Google lobbied the state. Google is a pioneer of driverless car technology and has been testing automated Toyota Priuses and Audi TTs in California, which has no laws prohibiting such vehicles.

According to Delen Goldberg, writing in the Las Vegas Sun:

Mountain View, Calif.,-based Google logged 140,000 miles of test drives in California but chose to come to Nevada to push for legislation because of the state’s physical landscape and business climate.

‘Nevada offers very good geographic opportunities, and the pro-business environment both from a tax and regulatory standpoint offered an opportunity to show what autonomous vehicles can do,’ said David Goldwater, a lobbyist who works for Google but said he was not speaking on behalf of the company.

‘Nevada has created an environment that could very easily attract the intellectual talents of a number of different companies,’ Goldwater said. ‘The environment we created and getting the law ahead of the technology, it should be very appealing to people who want to invest capital.’

Google says driverless cars, also called robot cars, will cut in half what the World Health Organization says are 1.2 million traffic accident fatalities annually.

Proponents say the cars will save gas, time, and lives because their computers will do the work of humans, who often drive while drowsy, distracted, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The robot cars’ sensors carefully maintain the distance between cars so vehicles can drive closer together, cutting down on traffic. And driverless cars will save gas and prevent emissions because they maintain a steady driving speed and stop less often.

As Tiffany Hsu writes in LA Times:

Stanford University robotics professor Sebastian Thrun, a project leader on Google’s effort, said that nearly all driving accidents are due to human error rather than mistakes by machines.

‘Do you realize that we could change the capacity of highways by a factor of two or three if we didn’t rely on human precision on staying in the lane but on robotic precision, and thereby drive a little bit closer together on a little bit narrower lanes and do away with all traffic jams on highways,’ he said in a speech at the TED 2011 conference in Long Beach this spring.

In Europe, efforts are underway to create ‘car platoons,’ in which drivers could hook their vehicles up electronically with others to form a chain controlled by the first vehicle in the line.

Image by drpfenderson, used under its Creative Commons license.


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