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California Legalizes Testing of Self-Driving Cars

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Google self-driving car on 101!California is now the second U.S. state to establish guidelines for the testing of Google’s driverless cars, since Gov. Jerry Brown signed the autonomous-vehicles bill into law on Tuesday, as Heather Kelly writes for CNN Tech. California State Sen. Alex Padilla, who authored SB 1298, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin stood by as the governor signed the bill at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters. It will cover procedures and requirements to determine when the cars can go to market, which Brin hopes with be in five years or less, Kelly writes.

Nevada passed a law earlier this year to allow road-testing of driverless vehicles, as this blog reported back in May. As Kelly notes, the laws in both Nevada and California require driverless cars to have a human behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle if need be.

Kelly writes:

So far, the cars have racked up more than 300,000 driving miles, and 50,000 of those miles were without any intervention from the human drivers, Google says.

There have been no accidents while the cars were controlled by the computer. The only documented accident with one of the Google vehicles was a fender bender that took place while a human was in control.

Brin said self-driving vehicles will be safer than human-driven cars. Human-driven cars resulted in just under 33,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2010, Kelly notes. Another advantage of self-driving cars is that they can transport people who are usually unable to drive, such as blind people, those with other disabilities, people who are too old or too young to drive, and people who are intoxicated, Brin said.

Self-driving cars could eventually help to do away with parking lots, which Kelly quotes Brin as calling “a scar to the surface of the Earth.” The driverless cars would be able to drop people off and pick them up instead of sitting in a parking lot for hours. And for people for want to own their own self-driving cars rather than be taxied by them, Kelly writes, such cars will be able to park themselves with great efficiency.

Google’s fleet of driverless cars began with Toyota Prius Hybrids and eventually added the Lexus RX450h crossover SUV, the latter of which, Donny Nordlicht writes in Automobile, has been rated one of the top nine safest crossovers, getting a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and being named to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks list.

Kelly explains how the driverless technology works:

The cars use a combination of technologies, including radar sensors on the front, video cameras aimed at the surrounding area, various other sensors and artificial-intelligence software that helps steer. Google is the most visible company working on these types of vehicles, but similar projects are under way at other organizations, including Caltech.

As this blog reported in May, Volvo debuted three cars and one truck driving by themselves on a public road behind a lead vehicle in Spain, and the cars drove for 124 miles in a project in development since 2009.

In a Gizmodo article titled, “Holy Crap, Self-Driving Cars Are Now Legal in California,” Brent Rose quotes Gov. Brown at the bill’s signing: “Today we’re looking at science-fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality.”

The Gizmodo article drew many comments. Someone named “Stre” wrote:

Oh man, I would kill for this right now in Chicago. Those commutes into the city when I drive would be much less painful if I could read on the way in. And the long weekly trip up north would be spent doing much more sleeping.

Someone named “lhamil64” writes:

So many people are seeing these cars as bad, but I see them with excitement. I’ve been legally blind my whole life, so I can’t drive at all. Usually I can get people to drive me places, but it would be awesome to be able to get one of these cars and go places by myself. I’ve always just accepted that I’ll have to live somewhere with public transportation, but if these self driving cars become mainstream, I could basically live wherever and still be able to get around.

And a commenter named “Justin” writes:

The idea that people will not have to die in car wrecks any more is amazing to me. My wife lost her mother in a car wreck when she was 11, and it is crazy to think that in the future this will be something that does not happen, something that is hard to explain to our grandchildren.

 

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