California self-driving cars straight ahead; congestion relief effort detoured

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A new law in California is supposed to help pave the way for driverless cars in the state. The governor vetoed a separate bill that sought to ease congestion on a portion of Interstate 80.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Tuesday, Sept. 25, to allow autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles onto California roadways. Specifically, it sets up safety and performance standards to test and operate the vehicles throughout the state.

Nevada adopted a similar rule a year ago. Other states also are looking into approving standards.

During the bill signing ceremony this week at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA, supporters noted that licensed drivers are required to be behind the wheel of the vehicles, which are designed to improve safety by eliminating human error. Drivers have the ability to override the vehicle if something goes wrong.

“Self-driving cars can transform lives and communities – providing transportation to those not currently served, increasing safety on the road, reducing or eliminating congestion, and turning parking into parkland,” stated Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Previously SB1298, the new law also calls on the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations on licensing, testing and operation of the vehicles no later than Jan. 1, 2015.

Brin said the self-driving vehicles could be commercially available within a decade. The company plans to partner with automobile makers to develop the vehicles.

Gov. Brown vetoed another bill Sunday, Sept. 23, to suspend eastbound carpool lanes on segments of Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Sacramento.

The bill – AB2200 – would have removed the HOV lane traveling north on I-80 between the Bay Bridge and Carquinez Bridge during the morning rush.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, said too few vehicles use the express lane while many more vehicles are stuck in the remaining lanes.

The governor said he did not want to end the program.

“Encouraging carpooling is important to reduce pollution and make more efficient use of our highways,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “This bill goes in a wrong direction.”

To view other legislative activities of interest for California, click here.

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