I first wrote about Google’s project to develop a self-driving car back in October 2010, and I’ve tried to follow its progress here from time to time. Earlier this year, the state of Nevada approved test operation of the driverless vehicles on public roads, under specified conditions. (For example, the company is required to post a $1 million insurance bond, and to have human drivers in the vehicle who can take over in an emergency.)
Now, according to a brief article at Ars Technica, Google’s home state of California is getting in on the act. The state legislature has passed, and sent to the Governor for signature, legislation that would further the move toward self-driving vehicles.
The new bill requires the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt new regulations, including safety standards and “performance requirements” for new autonomous vehicles. Once those new rules are put in place, the bill “would permit autonomous vehicles to be operated or tested on the public roads in this state.”
Google has, of course, been conducting tests on roads in California for a while, under various arrrangements, but the new legislation enables testing, and possible future use, to be put on a more formal basis. The details have been left for the motor vehicle department to sort out, so it remains to be seen what the rules will be.
It seems to me that this technology might potentially improve the safety and efficiency of road transportation, if we can work out a way to solve not only the technical problems, but the legal and cultural ones also.