California Senate paves way for self-driving cars with unanimous vote

In February, Nevada became the first state to approve self-driving cars and set up appropriate safety regulations and standards. Now California is following in its neighbor's footsteps with a bill that, if signed off by Gov. Jerry Brown, will officially allow autonomous vehicles to be operated and tested on state roads.

The bill, titled SB 1298, passed unanimously in the state Senate on Wednesday, and was approved by the Assembly earlier this week with a vote of 72 - 4. The bill will require the Department of the California Highway Patrol to "adopt safety standards and performance requirements to ensure the safe operation and testing of 'autonomous vehicles'" on public roads in California.

Self-driving cars aren't illegal in California -- as we know, Google's been testing its self-driving fleet of Priuses for a few years now. But this new legislation, if approved, will require the DMV to put forth safety standards and regulations that all autonomous vehicles will have to comply with. The text of the bill doesn't detail the actual standards or how the autonomous vehicles will be tested to ensure they meet requirements -- that will be up to the DMV.

Nevada, which set up its own standards in February, requires that all self-driving vehicles have special red license plates and have actual human drivers behind the wheel. There's no word on what the standards will be like for California's autonomous vehicles, but I imagine it will be similar -- it's very unlikely that we'll see truly driverless cars cruising down the I-5 anytime soon.

Once the bill is passed, the DMV will have to come up with, and adopt, the new standards by January 1, 2015. The bill explicitly states that it does not prohibit the operation and testing of self-driving cars before the adoption of regulations by the DMV, though, so Google and other car-makers can continue their tests uninhibited.

The future of driverless cars

California's new legislation means we're one step closer to a future of being chauffeured around by autonomous vehicles. Google's fleet has allegedly driven over 300,000 miles, and seven of its cars have reportedly driven 1000 miles without any human intervention whatsoever. There has only been one reported accident involving a Google self-driving car, and, according to Google, that accident was actually the fault of human intervention.

Other car manufacturers are also delving into the autonomous vehicle technology. BMW and Audi are reportedly developing self-driving car prototypes, and Cadillac expects to include a "Super Cruise" function in its commercial vehicles as early as 2015. Cadillac's "Super Cruise" will reportedly allow a vehicle to automatically steer, brake, and center itself in a lane during optimal driving conditions.

The regulations will likely be put into place ahead of 2015 -- and, as I mentioned earlier, they're likely to include such requirements as having physical human drivers available and special, colored license plates -- but that doesn't mean we're going to see totally autonomous vehicles on the commercial market right away. More likely than not, we'll see features similar to Cadillac's "Super Cruise," which will sort of drive for you…but also sort of not.

And don't even think about letting it all hang out when autonomous cars come to market -- though officers may let up on texting and driving tickets when self-driving cars come out, there is pretty much never going to be an excuse for drinking and driving.

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