California Governor Brown To Sign Autonomous Vehicle Law At Google Today

California is about to become the third state in the US with legislation designed to explicitly allow autonomous vehicles to be tested. California Governor Jerry Brown will sign the new law today at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.

Yesterday afternoon, on Google’s video channel, I noticed a new live stream page that went up saying that Google cofounder Sergey Brin would be interviewing Brown on the Google campus. For what? That wasn’t stated.

Later that day, the Governor’s office sent out a notice that Brown would be signing legislation at Google. What legislation wasn’t revealed, which leads back to that live stream page I mentioned. The description there has now been updated to say:

California Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. visits the Google Headquarters on September 24th, 2012 to sign SB1298, a bill that creates a legal framework and operational safety standards for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

Making Testing Officially Legal

It’s not illegal for robocars to operate in California, but neither has it been expressly legal. Our post earlier this year, Blind Man Is First “Driver” Of Google’s Self-Driving Car & Why It Was Legal, explains more about the gray area.

California’s new law will clear matters up, just as laws in Nevada last year and Florida last April do. Other states are also considering them.

California’s state legislature passed its bill last month. The Bay Citizen has a fresh article out detailing Google’s lobbying work to get it through.

New Law, But Not In Effect Until More Rules Created

The bill states:

The Legislature finds it appropriate to authorize the establishment of specific safety requirements for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles, and to require that future testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in the state comply with those requirements

It goes on to outline rules such as:

  • The vehicle can only be operated by those “designated” by the manufacturer of the car (so Google can let anyone it designates “drive” the cars)
  • The “driver” has to be seated in the driver’s seat and able to take over manual control (so this means Steve Mahan, the blind man who “drove” one of the cars in March couldn’t do so under the new rules, since the actual driver of the car wasn’t behind the wheel)
  • Autonomous cars can only operate after being certified — which would make all of Google’s cars illegal to operate once the law is signed until they are formally certified, but….
  • Autonomous cars can continue operating under outside of this new law until the California Department Of Motor Vehicles drafts certification requirements and other rules. The DMV has until January 1, 2015 to do so. The new law really goes into effect 120 days after those are drafted

This is similar to Nevada. While it passed its driverless car law last year, it took until May until autonomous vehicle regulations were created and the first Nevada licenses issued.

That’s my read of highlights in the new law. No doubt, we’ll get more clarity on what happens next during the signing. That’s set to happen at 1pm PT. You can view it live below:

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Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Self-Driving Cars | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Michael Cropper

    Based on how many times Google messes up their normal search results…. I would hate to think how many ‘accidents’ are likely to happen with their driverless cars. “Whoops, sorry, our sensing algorithm got its wires crossed”. Just a little cynical and apprehensive based on their performance to date…

  • Tony Demetriou

    Given how often humans mess up in their normal operations, you can have a look at traffic accident statistics, and compare whether we’ve got a better or worse track record than the google products.

    Yeah, these cars will have accidents. There will be problems with the code. There will be problems with the hardware. Brake pads will wear out, oil will leak, cars will hit things that they failed to sense. It will be bad, lives might be lost. Nobody wants that.

    But all of those things are already happening right now, with human drivers. The question isn’t whether autonomous cars will make mistakes. The question is whether those cars will make more or less mistakes than human drivers, and whether the mistakes they do make will be larger or smaller in scale.

    I’ve had a few (thankfully minor) accidents while driving. Nothing worse than some bent fenders. But in all of those cases, a computer could have avoided the problem. They were all low-speed, and caused by inattention.

    At high speeds, the gains are even more. A computer being able to hit the brakes even 1 second earlier than a human can make a HUGE difference in the total amount of damage (and risk to live) from a collision.

  • Michael Cropper

    Who its to blame when things do go wrong? You can’t take a computer to court for causing an accident. Or should the driver be ultimately responsible even though it wasn’t them that caused the incident?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big of a geek as the next person and can’t wait for technology like this. I just think there is a lot to work through before this type of technology is robust enough.


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