California Legislature Approves Driverless Vehicle Bill - Senator Padilla’s Legislation Establishes Performance and Safety Standards

August 29, 2012

Sacramento, CA – The California Legislature today gave final approval to SB 1298, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). The bill would establish safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways. The bill now goes to Governor Brown for his 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, autonomous technology can analyze the entire 360° 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 said.  “Autonomous technology is not science fiction. We are living in the era of Moore’s Law where every two years we double our computer processing speeds.  This is allowing us to make exponential leaps in advanced technology.  To a large extent, that progress has made self-driving cars possible sooner, rather than later,” said Padilla who also serves on the governing board of MIT.

Indeed, Google’s fleet of autonomous vehicles has already logged 300,000 test miles on California’s roads and highways. Ford and GM are also steadily moving towards fully autonomous vehicles by introducing more and more semi-autonomous features to the market.  One feature is autonomous self-parking that allows a driver to let the car park itself.  Adaptive cruise control is another semi-autonomous feature.  With traditional cruise control the driver sets the speed and the car maintains that speed even when approaching an obstacle.  With “adaptive” cruise control, the driver sets the speed and the vehicle autonomously brakes and accelerates with the flow of traffic.  Other features already on the market are front and back pre-collision braking in which the car responds for the driver to avoid collisions, and lane departure warning systems that alert the driver when the vehicle is drifting out of the lane.

Fully autonomous vehicles are the logical next step in automotive development.  Volkswagen is working with Stanford University on an autonomous vehicle design.  Audi, Volvo and BMW are all working on autonomous technology.  According to Jim McBride, a technical expert at Ford Research and Innovation, “There is no technology barrier from going where we are now to the autonomous car.”  Bill Ford, Executive Chairman at Ford Motor Company stated earlier this year that their vehicles should have "auto pilot" capabilities as early as 2017.  Even JPL’s Curiosity Rover has an autonomous mode to navigate around obstacles on the surface of Mars.

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

Specifically, SB 1298 would:

  • require the Department of Motor vehicles to
    • create an application and approval process for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways
    • establish safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles
    • allow a licensed driver to test “drive” an autonomous vehicle
  • require that an autonomous vehicle meet all applicable safety standards and performance requirements in state and federal law

 Senator Alex Padilla, 39, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  He currently serves on the Board of MIT and as President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 900,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District which includes most of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.  You can find more information about Senator Padilla at his website or follow him at his Fan Page on facebook.