By a margin of 37-0, the California State Senate voted to approve a bill that will allow self-driving vehicles on California streets and highways. The bill (SB1298) was designed to establish guidelines for autonomous vehicles to be tested and operated in California, and thanks to a unanimous vote earlier this week, will now be moving onto the Assembly for consideration next month.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Alex Padilla, says fostering this sort of technology is, “a matter of safety.” In an article from the LA Times, Padilla asserted, “Human error is the cause of almost every accident on the road today. If autonomous technology can reduce the number of accidents, then we also reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California’s roads.”
Although Google’s now-famous video demonstration of the self-driving car (embedded below) shows a legally blind man as the sole passenger, the bill will require a licensed driver behind the wheel ready to take control in the event that anything goes wrong.
Nevada and Florida already have similar laws in place, and if passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Padilla’s bill would take effect in January of 2013. The law’s timeliness couldn’t be better, with a recent poll suggesting that as many as 20 percent of all motorists “definitely would” or “probably would” want the new technology included in their next car. While the technology is still in its early stages, the interest level is certainly there.
California has the opportunity to be one of the first states to usher in a new and potentially lifesaving technology. Padilla’s suggestion that human error is responsible for the majority of vehicle collisions is dead on, and autonomous vehicles offer an opportunity to dramatically reduce the risks associated with driving. It’s still too early to tell how this will all pan out over the next several months (and years), but it’s exciting to think of the possibilities.