California signs no-driver bill
A FUTURE OF SELF-DRIVERS : California governor Larry Brown and Google co-counder Sergey Brin alight from a Toyota Prius equipped with Google's self-driving technology.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, California - State governor Jerry Brown rode to Google headquarters in a self-driving Toyota Prius before signing legislation on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 that will pave the way for such cars in California.
The bill will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.
'SCIENCE FICTION BECOMES REALITY'
Brown said: "Today we're looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow's reality - the self-driving car. Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is doing the driving will be a little skittish, but they'll get over it."
Google has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the regulations. The company's fleet of a dozen computer-controlled vehicles has logged more than 483 000km of self-driving without an accident, according to Google.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin said: "I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everybody. Autonomous cars can make roads safer, free commuters from the drudgery of driving, reduce congestion and provide transport to people who can't drive themselves, such as the blind, disabled, elderly and intoxicated.
"I expect they will be far safer than human-driven cars."
Brin predicted that autonomous vehicles would be commercially available by 2022. Google had no plans to produce its own cars but would partner with the automobile industry to develop autonomous vehicles.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers expressed concern that California was moving too quickly to embrace self-driving cars and needed first to sort out liability issues.
"Unfortunately this legislation lacks any provision protecting an automaker whose car is converted to an autonomous operation vehicle without the consent or even knowledge of that auto manufacturer," the trade group said.
Autonomous cars use computers, sensors and other technology to operate independently but a human driver can override the autopilot to take control at any time. With smartphone-wielding drivers more distracted than ever, backers say robotic vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce collisions and traffic fatalities, noting that nearly all car accidents were a result of human error.
The legislation requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles by January 1, 2015. Current state law doesn't mention self-driving cars because the technology is so new.
AUTONOMY FOR YEARS
The regulations would allow vehicles to operate autonomously but a licensed driver would still need to sit behind the wheel in case of an emergency.
In February 2012, Nevada became the first US state to approve regulations spelling out requirements for companies to test driverless cars on that state's roads.
Automakers such as Audi, BMW, Ford and Volvo have been working on autonomous car technology for years but only recently have they introduced autonomous functions such as self-parking, lane-departure warnings and adaptive cruise-control - the last allowing vehicles to automatically accelerate and decelerate with the flow of traffic.