Self-Driving Car Law Easily Passes in California
Google-lobbied bill makes autonomous cars legal, as long as a licensed driver is behind the wheel.
After being autonomously driven to Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters yesterday in one of the company’s self-driving Toyota Priuses, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation yesterday making autonomous cars legal in the Golden State.
"Today we're looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow's reality," Brown said of the driverless car.
California followed Nevada’s lead earlier this year in passing a law making self-driving cars legal on state roads. Under the new legislation, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is required to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles by Jan. 1, 2015. Although the regulations would allow vehicles to operate autonomously, a licensed driver would still be required to sit behind the wheel in case of an emergency.
While several automakers such as Audi, BMW and Cadillac are working on partially and fully autonomous vehicles, Google has forged ahead with a fleet of Priuses and Lexus RX crossovers that are equipped with the company’s own self-driving technology and that have logged more than 300,000 miles on public roads without any incident, according to Google. Except for recently reaching out to the auto and insurance industries to partner on the deployment of self-driving cars, Google has mostly been going its own way in developing the technology and in lobbying for legislation on autonomous vehicles on the state and federal level.
Disclosure statements filed by Google and obtained by San Francisco public broadcasting outlet KQED reveal that the company repeatedly lobbied the California legislature, Highway Patrol and Department of Motor Vehicles on the issue. In addition, KQED discovered that during the same period Google paid $140,000 for the lobbying services of the well-connected firm KP Public Affairs, based in California’s capital, Sacramento.
KQED also found that during the 2009-10 legislative session, Google gave campaign contributions totaling $64,000 to 36 successful candidates for the state Senate and Assembly. The company also gave $25,900 each to Brown and his unsuccessful Republican rival Meg Whitman. And Wired reported that Google has also been busy in Washington, D.C., giving federal lawmakers joyrides in its self-driving cars and extending its lobbying on a national level.
The easy passage of the bill -- it sailed through the Senate on a 37-0 vote and in the Assembly 74-2 -- is proof of Google’s growing lobbying clout, said Rob Stutzman, who represented automakers opposing the bill and was the deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It was a powerful effort that they put together,” Stutzman told KQED. “They picked a powerful author. They clearly lobbied the governor’s administration as well.”
Automakers are concerned about liability, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says that California moved too quickly to legalize self-driving cars. "Currently, autos are designed to be operated by people who carry the responsibility to maintain control and safely operate the vehicle," the trade group said in a statement. "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."
Privacy advocates also expressed concern about the law's quick passage and are worried about how Google will use the data its cars would collect. "What this demonstrates more than anything else is Google's ability to dazzle and get its way," John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, said in a statement. "The governor and many legislators have been taken for a ride by Google -- and I don't just mean in the Internet giant's driverless test vehicles.”
While Simpson said there’s no question that self-driving cars will someday become a reality, at issue is the way the California lawmakers were quick to endorse the technology without considering its ramifications. “On the privacy issue, the law gives the user no control over what data will be gathered and how the information will be used."
For their part, legislators believe that California needs to be at the forefront on autonomous car technology and that self-driving cars could bring several benefits. “The vast majority of traffic fatalities and injuries are caused by human error," said the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, at the time it was introduced.
He echoed Google’s goal of making vehicles and roads safer through self-driving technology, while also reducing traffic congestion and pollution. "I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone," Google co-founder Sergei Brin added.
[Source: USA Today]
Who will be responsible when these robocars have an accident? "Gee Officer,I wasn't driving..."
I supose if you are incapable of operating a car responsibly, and can't afford a chauffeur,the "solution" is the Robocar. May I never live to see the day...
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