California State Senator Introduces Robo-Car Legislation
Self-driving vehicles are making inroads. California state Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) rode in one — a Google-adapted Toyota Prius — on Wednesday to that state’s capital to introduce legislation that would formally open California’s roadways to autonomous vehicles.
Amanda J. Crawford quotes Padilla in a Bloomberg Businessweek article:
‘I imagine a lot of people think of a self-driving car as science fiction or something out of The Jetsons and something that may not be available for a long time,’ Padilla said after climbing out of the black Prius with a Google logo on the side and spinning sensors attached to the roof.
But fast-moving technology is making driverless vehicles possible for consumers sooner rather than later, Padilla said, so laws need to be in place. Several automakers have been developing robo-car technology in California, as Chuck Squatriglia writes on Wired’s Autopia blog:
Volkswagen, for example, worked closely with Stanford University through the Volkswagen Electronic Research Lab to develop cars for the DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous vehicle races. And Audi worked with Stanford to develop Shelley, an autonomous TTS that scaled Pikes Peak.
Squatriglia notes that although California does not ban self-driving vehicles from public roads, it does not regulate them. Therefore, Padilla’s proposed legislation, SB1298, does not “legalize” them, but instead, calls on the state’s Highway Patrol to adopt safety standards and performance requirements to ensure that such vehicles are being tested and operated safely.
Padilla wants the Golden State to follow the same trail blazed by Nevada, which earlier this month became the first to outline requirements for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. Padilla believes California, with its thriving tech sector, is the perfect testbed for such technology.
‘California is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in this field,’ he said.
Padilla’s announcement came just a day before Nevada’s rules on autonomous vehicles were to go into effect, reports James Temple for the SeattlePI blog Tech Chronicles. And Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, and Oklahoma are also considering legislation regarding autonomous vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Jerry Hirsch.
Temple writes: “In an interview with The Chronicle, Padilla said that at least 99 percent of accidents are caused by human error, mistakes that robotic cars mounted with cameras, sensors and intelligent software are unlikely to make.” Temple notes that Google, which has done around 200,000 miles of autonomous vehicle testing in California, lobbied for the bill, according to a spokesman. The spokesman also said, “We would like to see self-driving vehicles progress to the next stage here. We’re very fortunate to have found a supporter with a strong technical background in Senator Padilla.”
In this era of distracted driving, perhaps self-driving vehicles will reduce the number of car accidents because robo-cars do not get distracted the way human drivers often do. “The Google vehicles navigate using video cameras, radar sensors, a laser range-finder, and detailed maps, according to a Google blog post,” Crawford writes. She quotes Bruce Breslow, director of Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles, who said:
‘I thought it was amazing technology. The car sees better than you do. The car sees a 360-degree panorama. It sees the height of the curb. It sees three cars ahead, three cars behind. It can see beyond a blind spot.’
You can see a video in which the Google Prius self-driving car gives Padilla a ride to his press conference here: