We may not have the flying cars so many of us envisioned as children, but the future is here–in California at least. State senators voted 37-0 in support of a bill that permits self-driving vehicles on the roadways of California, as long as a licensed driver is behind the wheel. The self-driving cars were pioneered by Google, and appear to be safer than most drivers on the road today.
“Human error is the cause of almost every accident on the road today. If autonomous technology can reduce the number of accidents, then we also reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California’s roads,” said the sponsor of the bill, California State Senator Alex Padilla. “For me this is a matter of safety.”
Recently, Google posted a video of its autonomous Toyota Prius being test-driven by a legally blind man in California. The same Prius also hit the road in Washington D.C., test-driven by two council members there.
“It would enable people who are not able to drive, people who are blind or disabled, it would enable them to drive a car,” D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh said after the trip. “It would also have an extraordinary impact on parking, and traffic itself, because cars are idle about 90 percent of the time…so cars could be used by more than one person. You could get out of your car and tell it to go find a parking space.”
Before you get too excited, the cars are only permitted to be operated by people with a valid driver’s license, which will rule out those with disabilities that prevent obtaining a license currently.
The self-driving cars use radar, video cameras, lasers, and a database of information collected from manually-driven cars to allow them to safely navigate the streets, but even Google’s executives admit that the cars have kinks that need to be worked out before mass production could be considered. For example, the cars still have to “learn” how to avoid other vehicle accidents that may block travel lanes.
“Those are challenges and the kinds of situations that are not standard,” the developer said. “We are learning how to navigate those.”
The bill in California, SB1298, requires safety and performance standards for self-driven vehicles. Arizona, Hawaii, Florida, and Oklahoma also have similar laws in place. If the bill passes and is signed by Governor Jerry Brown, it would take effect sometime in January of 2013.