Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that would create safety standards for driverless cars - or “intelligent transportation” - in California.
The bill effectively legalizes autonomous driving - once the technology catches up. And it’s not far off. Tech researchers and automakers at the forefront of the movement predict that we’ll be seeing robo-cars on the road by 2015; by 2040, they say, drivers’ licenses may be obsolete.
Google already has a fleet of cars developed with Toyota that have a million miles under their collective wheels. We’ve seen the technology creeping into new vehicles little by little, from navigation systems to collision avoidance. Completely self-driven cars, experts say, are the next logical step. Proponents tout the safety advantages and increased personal autonomy for the blind, disabled or elderly. And imagine the luxury of being able to text, work or even enjoy a cocktail while being chauffeured by your Chevy.
But there are legal and societal concerns that need to be addressed before we go completely hands-free. The current legislation, critics point out, does nothing to address issues of liability or privacy. Who is responsible when two driverless cars crash? Who has access to software that tracks your speed, driving route and destination?
All that aside, are you ready to give up the wheel to your automobile? Can California drivers ever truly “leave the driving” to Google?
Jeffrey Miller, vice president, Intelligent Transportation Society, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and associate professor of computer engineering, University of Alaska in Anchorage
Bryant Walker Smith, fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University(CARS) whose current research focuses on the law and policy of self-driving vehicles.