“Behind the scenes it was a real struggle,” said Howard Posner, a veteran legislative staffer who
helped Google lobby behind-the-scenes for autonomous cars in consults for California’s Assembly Transportation Committee. In an unusually candid interview with the investigative reporting outlet, the Bay Citizen, the soon-to-retire consultant was surprised with the level of support. “It was a powerful effort that they put together,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, Rob Stutzman, who represents the carmaker’s opposition. “They picked a powerful author. They clearly lobbied the governor’s administration as well.”
With the bill now law, California joins Nevada as the only two states in the union that permit road testing of Google’s self-driving car effort. Specifically, it requires the DMV to draft rules to authorize public testing of the cars and expand the definition of a car “operator” to the person who “causes the autonomous technology to engage.”
In Google’s defense, cars take an enormous economic, financial, and human toll on humanity. “The vast majority of traffic fatalities and injuries are caused by human error,” said mechanical engineer and State Senator Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill. “Can we utilize and incorporate state-of-the-art technology to make our vehicles and therefore our roads and society safer?”
Google boasts the safety track record to back up its ambitious aims: after 300,000 miles in testing, the only incidents have been human errors.
Numerous other concerns, including privacy, additional testing, and liability logistics, had all been resolved by the time they reached the Assembly Transportation Committee in late June. The California Highway Patrol, who was apparently expected to voice concerns, was MIA. “They’ve been silenced by the governor’s office,” Posner said.
The Bay Citizen notes that Google spent about $144K on lobbying efforts, and gave 89K to California campaigns. Though, Google has a number of interests, and linking those dollars to this particular issue, when it could have been simple fascination with robotic cars, is dubious.
“The benefits of this could be enormous,” gushed Posner, in conclusion, “but if you don’t do this right, there could be some horrific accidents.”