Plan for self-driving cars passes California Senate hurdle


A bill that allows for the use of self-driving cars on California’s roads passed the California State Senate.

SB1298 by State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would establish guidelines for such “autonomous vehicles” to be tested and operated in California. The bill now goes to the Assembly for consideration next month.

Tech giant Google Inc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop such vehicles, which use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. Google has said that computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans, who, after all, get sleepy and distracted and can’t see in every direction at once.


Padilla said his bill passed without objection, a demonstration of the bipartisan support the technology has engendered.

A number of lawmakers test drove Google’s prototype autonomous Prius and “came away convinced that fostering this technology is the right direction for California.”

“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,” Padilla said. “For me this is a matter of safety.”

Padilla added that he believes self-driving cars also will improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles, reduce emissions and enable cars to talk to each other to improve traffic flow.

Self-driving cars must legally have a person at the wheel, ready to assume control if anything goes wrong.

The bill does the following:

  • Sets up safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s public roads.
  • Allows for the operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s public roads by a licensed driver.
  • Requires that an autonomous vehicle meets all applicable safety standards and performance requirements in state and federal law.
  • Allows the Highway Patrol, in consultation with the Department of Motor Vehicles, to recommend to the legislature additional requirements for the safe operation of such vehicles on California’s roads.

Last year, similar legislation was signed into law in Nevada. In addition, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are all currently considering autonomous-vehicle legislation.


Padilla said the bill is supported by the Automobile Club of Southern California, the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, TechNet, Google Inc. and TechAmerica.


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