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Google Driverless Cars: Now Street-Legal in California


De Techizard
Take it from a California resident: you see a lot of crazy things in this state. And it?s about to get a lot crazier, thanks to Jerry Brown and Google.

Governor Brown came to the Googleplex in Mountain View Tuesday afternoon to sign SB 1298, a bill that ?creates a legal framework and safety standards for autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.?

To put that more plainly, Google ? one of the largest and most innovative companies in the state, and now the fifth largest in the US ? used its considerable wealth and charm to nudge the state legislature in Sacramento into letting it test its fleet of driverless cars without too much hassle.

The bill wasn?t entirely necessary. California doesn?t actually say a car has to have a driver, since autonomous autos weren?t even envisaged when the state passed its first motor laws in the early 20th century. (Google?s cars use a combination of sensors, radar and computer navigation; an emergency back-up human or two is always present in the vehicle.)

Google has been testing its vehicles on California roads since 2010. One trip back then took a Google vehicle from San Francisco to Santa Monica, via the famously beautiful and twisty Pacific Coast Highway, without anyone at the wheel.

But the driverless car does have a habit of attracting attention from local sheriffs, who are confused and ultimately delighted (when they pull it over, it?s usually because they want a picture). SB 1298 makes it clear that the odd-looking Herbie-like car has the full backing of the state.

The California DMV also has two years to figure out how to start licensing driverless cars.

So California just joined Nevada and Florida in making the driverless car explicitly street legal. Who?s next?

Any state that wants fewer road deaths, faster travel and cheaper gas, basically. Google?s driverless cars have now logged more hours without accidents than the average U.S. driver. Put enough of them on the road and they can talk to each other, ensuring safe distances between each other (think of the automatic parallel parking now standard in most luxury vehicles) and fewer jams.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin had this to say: ?Self-driving cars can transform lives and communities?providing transportation to those not currently served, increasing safety on the road, reducing or eliminating congestion, and turning parking into parkland.?

Plus, of course, there are the bragging rights of being a state on the cutting edge. Jerry Brown didn?t miss a trick: ?Autonomous vehicles are another example of how California?s technological leadership is turning today?s science fiction into tomorrow?s reality,? he told the crowd at Google.