California Senate Paves Way for Driverless Cars

May 21, 2012

Legislation by Senator Padilla Would Establish Safety and Performance Standards

Sacramento, CA – Senate Bill 1298, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), was passed by the State Senate today with unanimous bipartisan support.  The vote was 37-0.  The bill would establish safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California roads and highways.  The bill now goes to the State Assembly for consideration.

“Thousands of Californian’s tragically die in auto accidents each year.  The vast majority of these collisions are due to human error.  Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle can analyze the driving environment more quickly and accurately and can operate the vehicle more safely.  Autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and injuries,” said Senator Alex Padilla.  “I envision a future that includes self-driving cars. Establishing safety standards for these vehicles is an essential step in that process,” Padilla added.

Over the years, car manufacturers have introduced a variety semi-autonomous technologies including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, pre-collision braking and even self-parking.  Autonomous vehicles are the logical next step.  Google, BMW, Audi and Volvo are all developing driverless technology with the goal of greater safety, improved fuel efficiency and increased roadway capacity. Google’s self-driving vehicles alone have been safely test-driven more than 200,000 miles in California.

“Developing and deploying autonomous vehicles will not only save lives, it will create jobs.  California is uniquely positioned to be the global leader in this field,” added Senator Padilla.

Specifically, SB 1298 would:

  • set up safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways
  • allow a licensed drive to operate an autonomous vehicle in California
  • require that an autonomous vehicle meet all applicable safety standards and performance requirements in state and federal law
  • allow the Highway Patrol, in consultation with the Department of Motor vehicles, to recommend to the legislature additional requirements for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways

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