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Autonomous Vehicles May Soon Drive California Roads

A Senate bill calling for safety standards for autonomous vehicles was approved by the California State Assembly on Aug. 28.

A new bill could pave the way for autonomous vehicles in California. SB 1298, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, was approved by the State Assembly on Aug. 28 with a vote of 66 to two. The bill, which will move to the Senate for a final concurrence vote, would establish safety standards and registration procedures for autonomous vehicles that would allow citizens to operate such vehicles on state roads and highways.

Thousands of Californians die in auto accidents each year, Padilla said in a statement, and autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to save lives. “I envision a future that includes self-driving cars. Establishing safety standards for these vehicles is an essential step in that process,” Padilla said. “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.”

If passed, the new bill will do three things: safety and performance standards for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles will be established and enforced in California; licensed drivers will be allowed to test autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways; and the Department of Motor Vehicles will be required to create an application and approval process for autonomous vehicles.

Nevada became the first state to approve autonomous vehicle testing on public roads this past March, and autonomous vehicles are marked with red license plates to indicate they are being tested. Once approved, an autonomous vehicle is marked with a green license plate, rather than the usual blue and yellow state plate. Other states, like Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma, are considering similar legislation for autonomous vehicles.

Early efforts in robotic autonomy were cutting-edge and relatively successful compared to some of today's vehicles, but autonomous vehicle technology is making its way into mainstream products. The U.S. Department of Defense promoted the development of autonomous vehicles through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenges, three races held in 2004, 2005 and 2007 that awarded millions of dollars in prizes to the builders of cars that were able to complete the race.

Google's fleet of autonomous vehicles has logged hundreds of thousands of miles on public roads and as technology progresses, semi-automatic vehicle functions, such as blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control, precollision braking and self-parking, become more common in commercial vehicles.

To some, these technologies point to a future where all road vehicles are driven autonomously, there are no collisions, and there is no traffic because a central computer manages vehicles using research inspired by insects.

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