Starting Jan. 1, 2013, autonomous vehicles will take a step closer toward operating on California’s roads and highways. SB 1298 became law on Sept. 25 as Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation authored by Sen. Alex Padilla that proposed the creation of safety and performance standards for autonomous vehicles. One of autonomous vehicle technology’s biggest supporters, Google, hosted the bill signing at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

“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,” Padilla said in a statement. “Establishing safety standards for these vehicles is an essential step in that process.”

The new law will require the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to establish safety and performance standards for autonomous vehicles, create an application and approval process for the public operation of autonomous vehicles, and allow testing of autonomous vehicles. The law will also require that autonomous vehicles meet all state and federal safety and performance standards already in place.

Google has a large stake in autonomous vehicle technology, having logged hundreds of thousands of miles in its autonomous Toyota Prius, the first autonomous vehicle to ever be licensed. Google also supported the passage of legislation in Nevada allowing public operation of autonomous vehicles.

Other companies, including most vehicle manufacturers, have shown interest in pursuing autonomous vehicle technology. BMW, Audi and Volvo have invested in autonomous vehicle research over the years, and semi-autonomous features such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, pre-collision braking and self-parking demonstrate a trend toward the driver doing less and the car doing more.