Self-Driving Cars Get Green Light in California

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Google's self-driving cars have finally received official recognition under a newly minted California law. Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. signed the bill that officially approves testing regulations and safety standards for the driverless cars on California's public roads.

California law had previously not recognized or prohibited autonomous self-driving cars, but that changed with the signing ceremony held at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., on Tuesday (Sept. 25). Brown took a ride in one of Google's self-driving vehicles before signing Senate Bill 1298 — legislation that officially approves test driving of autonomous cars on public roads and paves the way for the U.S. public to legally drive such cars in several years.

"Autonomous vehicles are another example of how California’s technological leadership is turning today's science fiction into tomorrow's reality," Brown said. "This law will allow California’s pioneering engineers to safely test and implement this amazing new technology."

Self-driving cars operated by Google have already spent months prowling the San Francisco Bay Area, and automakers such as Ford and Cadillac have also begun developing their own versions. Experts have welcomed the idea of self-driving cars as vehicles that could reduce traffic congestion, make roads safer and give improved road access to people such as the elderly or disabled.

"Self-driving cars can transform lives and communities — providing transportation to those not currently served, increasing safety on the road, reducing or eliminating congestion, and turning parking into parkland," said Sergey Brin, Google co-founder.

Brin accompanied Brown and State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), author of Senate Bill 1298, during the signing ceremony at Google's headquarters.

The new California law requires backup safety systems in case the self-driving software or hardware fails. Such vehicles must have the ability to come to a stop if the human driver cannot take over during an emergency, and it must record at least half a minute of sensor data at any given time in case of accidents or collisions on the road. [Why America's Love Affair with Cars Is No Accident]

California's law also requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt new regulations for licensing, bonding, testing and operating autonomous vehicles by Jan. 1, 2015. It also authorizes the DMV to impose added requirements on autonomous vehicles that don't have a human in the driver's seat.

Many of today's vehicles already have self-parking systems or anti-collision detection technology similar to what self-driving cars might feature. A European test of a "road train" of cars that follow a single lead truck also hints at the future when many autonomous cars may also "talk" wirelessly with one another to ensure road safety and smooth driving.

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