California became the third state to legalize self-driving cars, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nevada passed similar legislation around this time last year, as did Florida, the newspaper reports.
At the signing ceremony for the legislation were California Gov. Jerry Brown and Google's co-founder Sergey Brin; the signing of the bill took place at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google has been the chief proponent of self-driving cars and has a fleet of autonomous test vehicles in California and Nevada.
This means some 60 million Americans now live in states where cars theoretically could operate free of their human owners. I say theoretically because the Nevada and California laws are narrowly worded but more specific than what's on record for most states.
Like the Nevada law, the California law merely authorizes the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to come up with rules that would allow for the free operation of autonomous vehicles. Nevada's DMV eventually came up with the following constricted rules:
"Regulations approved by state officials include requiring companies to secure a bond of $1 million to $3 million, detail their specific plans and intended test locations and provide all collected data to the state. Nevada also requires that during testing, two passengers will always be in the car, in case one needs to override the controls."
We expected similarly high barriers to be established by California's DMV since self-driving cars are still in the experimental phase.
Google says its aim is to make cars safer. More than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents, according to the World Health Organization. Google believes this number can be halved with its technology. The technology could also drastically reduce traffic jams, reduce wasted fuel consumption and reinvent the relationship between the driver and car.
"You can count on one hand the number of years before ordinary people" will be driving self-driving cars, Brin told the crowd at the signing.