Environment & Science

Self-driving cars get the green light from California state Legislature

The Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of in Washington, D.C. May 14, 2012.
The Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of in Washington, D.C. May 14, 2012.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

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A bill that would pave the way for driverless cars in California has steered clear of legislative speed bumps. The state Senate passed the measure Wednesday evening, and it's headed to the governor’s desk.

Major car companies have been revving up designs and technology in California and Google's already testing self-driving cars on 300,000 miles of state roads.

The online giant teamed with BMW, Audi and Volvo to develop auto computers, sensors and other systems that can scan and analyze roads. Volkswagen teamed up with Stanford University to design a driverless car.

The companies say computer-driven vehicles could reduce the human error factor in accidents, ease congestion on streets and highways and cut fuel consumption. But nothing in state law governs the commercial use of automatic cars.

Now a bill by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would empower the Department of Motor Vehicles to develop safety and performance standards for testing and operating the vehicles and would make it legal for consumers to test drive them.

Padilla said the technology could prevent the vast majority of thousands of fatal collisions in California each year that result from human error.

“Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, autonomous technology can analyze the entire 360° driving environment more quickly and accurately and can operate the vehicle more safely,” Padilla said in a written statement.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California would join Nevada as the second state in the nation to make the self-driving cars legal.

What SB 1298 would do: