A new law signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown will allow the presence of self-driving cars on the state's streets and highways. A number of companies have such radar-equipped vehicles in the works, using advanced technology to direct the car, avoid collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians, and reach the desired programmed destination. The vehicles also utilize video cameras and lasers, all controlled by an onboard computer. The hope is that, by removing human drivers from the equation, there will be a reduction in the number of car accidents.
Whether that will be the actual result is purely speculative until the self-directed driverless vehicles have some track record and are in relatively widespread use for a significant period of time. Some other advanced technology, previously widely touted as the answer to reducing traffic accidents, such as lane-sensing devices, have failed to deliver a significant reduction in car accidents and their ensuing injuries and fatalities.
Proponents of the new vehicles contend, however, that human errors are responsible for most car accidents. They also argue that the fuel efficiency and level of carbon emissions of the vehicles will be improved and that communication between computer-directed cars will help eliminate some traffic jams.
The new law does require, however, that there be a driver in waiting in any self-driving car, ready to step in immediately if the automatic systems fail. Legislators also established a number of performance and safety requirements for the vehicles if they are to be allowed on California roads. California is only the second state in the nation to authorize the use of self-driving cars, following Nevada's enactment of similar legislation last year. Four other states are currently considering whether to also do so.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Brown signs bill regulating self-driving cars in California," Jerry Hirsch, Sept. 25, 2012
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