Driverless Cars Legalized In California

by Marc Scribner on September 25, 2012

in Features, Mobility, Regulation, Tech & Telecom

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Just after 1pm PDT, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1298, which explicitly legalizes the use and testing of driverless cars in the state. California becomes the second third state in the country, after Nevada (which has already licensed Google’s self-driving car) and Florida, to legalize this new technology. Video of the signing can be found here.

While I previously criticized SB 1298 for being too restrictive (unlike Nevada’s) — specifically, a section that deferred to nonexistent National Highway Transportation Safety Administration regulations that likely won’t be drafted and finalized for several years, and explicitly required that a licensed driver be behind the wheel — this is an important step in the right direction.

Back in May, CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman (pictured above) and myself had the opportunity to test ride Google’s self-driving car. We were very impressed. As I noted then, this new technology has the promise to be the most significant innovation in automobility since Henry Ford’s mass-production assembly line. It will greatly reduce the number of crashes, and thus road injuries and fatalities, as a computer’s response time is far quicker than that of a human’s. It will also dramatically reduce congestion, improve air quality, offer disabled persons an unprecedented level of personal mobility, and enable new urban mobility services such as driverless ride-shares.

The liability issue sticks out as a major problem to many, but as I explained in May, this may not present an insurmountable hurdle (Google doesn’t seem to think so) given the proliferation of event data recorders.

In addition to being legal in Nevada and California, a number of other states are considering adopting similar authorization laws, including Arizona, Hawaii, and Oklahoma. Legislation was also recently introduced here in the District of Columbia by Councilmember Mary Cheh. Here’s to hoping good policy can be made into good politics.

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