The California State Senate this week passed new legislation that would establish safety standards and regulations for self-driving cars. The bill, SB 1298, passed with a unanimous vote of 37-0, and will now make its way to the State Assembly, which is expected to issue its seal of approval within the next month.
Monday's announcement comes a few months after Nevada's legislature ratified its own set of regulations on autonomous cars, though California seems to be taking a more cautious approach to the nascent technology. Earlier this month, Nevada issued its first testing license to Google, allowing the company to begin trials on state roadways. California's bill doesn't go quite as far, outlining general performance and safety requirements that manufacturers must meet before embarking on test drives.
These vehicles would also have to meet existing federal and state safety standards, and would be required to include a mechanism for disabling autonomous functions, in case of emergency. At least one licensed driver would need to remain in the vehicle during test drives, and companies looking to conduct trials would have to be insured at $5 million.
Democratic Senator Alex Padilla authored the bill, and believes it could pave the way for California "to be the global leader" in the self-driving car industry, thereby creating new jobs, as well. But according to Padilla, the benefits of autonomous driving would extend well beyond the economic.
"Thousands of Californians tragically die in auto accidents each year," Padilla said. "The vast majority of these collisions are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle can analyze the driving environment more quickly and accurately and can operate the vehicle more safely."