Buckle Up, California: Governor Jerry Brown Signs State Law Permitting Self-Driving Cars

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For people who live and work around Silicon Valley, sightings of self-driving cars have become pretty common — especially on the roads and highways near the Mountain View, California headquarters of Google, which has been championing the technology.

It now looks like such sightings could become more common throughout the Golden State in the months to come.

Today, the office of California Governor Jerry Brown announced that he has signed into law a bill that “allows driverless cars to be operated on public roads for testing purposes, provided that each vehicle has a full licensed and bonded operator in the driver’s seat to take control if necessary.”

State Senator Alex Padilla, Google co-founder Sergey Brin (yes, sporting Google Glass), and California Governor Jerry Brown

The bill, SB1298,authored by state Senator Alex Padilla, also requires that the California DMV will adopt regulations that specifically cover autonomous vehicles by January 1, 2015.

According to a press release issued by the Governor’s office today, Jerry Brown visited Google’s headquarters and took one of the company’s self-driving cars for a spin prior to signing the bill into law.

The vehicles spotted already in the San Francisco Bay Area always have someone in the driver’s seat, but the purposefully low-key exterior and the spinning light detection and ranging (LiDAR) devices on the roof make it pretty apparent that they’re a bit different than their fully human-operated counterparts.

The governor’s office says that this legislation “paves the way for new technology that could reduce highway fatalities, pollution and congestion while expanding mobility options for elderly and disabled people.”

As my colleague Greg Ferenstein reported yesterday, Google has lobbied very hard for this bill. But they are not the only ones betting on a future with autonomous vehicles. If you talk to the founding teams at startups such as Zimride (which operates Lyft of pink mustache fame) and SideCar, they will tell you that one of the most exciting things about the ride-sharing space is the possibility that its core technology could ultimately be leveraged in a future time when computers are operating many of the vehicles on the roads.

Here’s a video of a self-driving car in action: