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California Governor Signs Bill To Set Laws For Autonomous Cars

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Courtesy of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles

Courtesy of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles

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Representing a major coup for proponents of autonomous cars, the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, has signed a bill that will set out laws to allow self-driving cars on the state’s roads. The new bill, put forward by Democrat Senator Alex Padilla, helps establish the rules that will govern the operation of autonomous vehicles and lay the groundwork for new legislation that will eventually make the cars legal for public use.

Part of the bill requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations for autonomous cars by January 1, 2015. As the Associated Press (via The Washington Post) points out, there are currently no regulations for self-driving cars in California since the technology has never really existed in the past.

One of the key stipulations of the new regulations will be the need for a licensed driver behind the wheel at all times in case of an emergency situation where human intervention may be required. This is similar to rules already in place in Nevada, which has been a pioneer in the governance of autonomous cars and whose DMV has already issued a license for the use of the self-driving cars.

The recipient of that first license was search engine giant Google, which has a fleet of autonomous Toyota Prius hybrids and has already racked up more than 300,000 miles during testing.

California is a crucial state when it comes to the auto industry as it rivals some countries for new car sales and its rules tend to have major influences on the industry. California is also home to major tech centers such as Stanford University and Silicon Valley, which together with several automakers, have been working on the technology required for autonomous cars for years.  

Some of the automakers include BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen and Volvo. Parts suppliers like Continental are also heavily involved.  

Proponents of autonomous cars say the primary motivation is the belief the technology would save lives and prevent injuries, along with reducing traffic congestion and emissions. One of the major hurdles, however, apart from developing the technology, is how autonomous cars would interact with cars with human drivers. Then there’s also the issue of who is to blame if any autonomous car is involved in an accident.

The biggest fear, at least to driving fans, is whether the general acceptance of autonomous cars will eventually lead to a world where human-driven cars are ban from public roads.
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