From Forbes, edited by Canyon Carver
California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a law making it legal for driverless cars to travel on public roadways.
It’s not that smart minds in Detroit, Japan and Germany aren’t already working on autonomous cars. They’ve been doing so for years. But as with most new technologies, automotive engineers want to make absolutely certain that they’re safe and perform as expected before launching into mass production. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agrees, of course, which is why it recently launched the first real-world test of vehicle-to-vehicle communication near Ann Arbor, Mich.
But Google, which has already developed a fleet of driverless cars that some of its employees use to commute to work, was eager to press ahead. It lobbied heavily for the California law, which would allow testing of autonomous vehicles on the state’s roadways as long as there’s a fully licensed human in the driver’s seat to take over if needed.
“Today, we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality,” Gov. Brown said during a news conference at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. “This self-driving car is another step forward in this long march of California pioneering the future and leading not just the country, but the whole world.”
California, of course, has led the way toward cleaner vehicles, often adopting stricter laws than the federal government to control greenhouse gases and combat global warming. Other states, primarily in the Northeast, have followed suit. In 2008, California sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for trying to block its enactment of tough new rules on tailpipe emissions. Most automakers sided with the EPA, saying it would be impractical for each state to dictate its own emissions standards. Critics accused the carmakers of dragging their feet on fuel economy. All sides eventually reached an agreement, but the push from California undoubtedly influenced the EPA’s sharply higher fuel economy standards, which require carmakers to achieve a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
When it comes to driverless cars, California is actually the third state to authorize them, behind Nevada and Florida. But it is by far the most influential. “It’s significant because California is a big state, a first mover and really a big player,” Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who studies autonomous vehicle law, told the New York Times. “It’s a good signal for the other states.”
Driverless cars have the potential to make roads safer because digital messages will allow vehicles to stay in constant communication with one another. Google co-founder Sergey Brin points to other benefits, too: greater mobility for people with disabilities, more productivity for commuters now stuck in traffic, less congestion and less pollution.
“It really has the power to change people’s lives,” he said.
"Who cares?" Sez Bandit. (above photo) "I've been doin' it for years anyway!"