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Legality of driverless cars

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Tags: Autonomous Vehicles

We have over 100 years of collective social experience with cars that have drivers. That idea is so deeply ingrained that we cannot collectively conceive of a driverless car, where there are no drivers, and all the passengers could be snoozing away. And what of fully automated unoccupied vehicles that could be used for package delivery? These ideas are far out science fiction, and many will shake their heads over in disbelief once these vehicles start driving on the roads in 10-20 years. This means that the legal framework for these vehicles simply doesn't exist, yet.

Google has been experimenting with driverless cars on public roads without any special license through a liberal interpretation of the law. Namely, the law doesn't prohibit the activity, so it must be okay. And, in any case, they always kept a "driver" sitting in the "driver seat" ready to take over the driving should the robot go crazy.

California governor signs driverless cars bill September 25, 2012 (phys.org) http://phys.org/news/2012-09-california-governor-driverless-cars.html

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways. "Today we're looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow's reality; the self-driving car," Brown said. "Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they'll get over it." Google has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the regulations. The company's fleet of a dozen computer-controlled vehicles has logged more than 300,000 miles (483,000 kilometers) of self-driving without an accident, according to Google.

Google in talks with insurers about self-driving car April 26, 2012 (phys.org) http://phys.org/news/2012-04-google-self-driving-car.html

A leader of Google Inc.'s driverless car project said Wednesday that the company is in discussions with major auto insurance companies about the implications of integrating its technology into real-world vehicles.

Google gets driverless car law passed in Nevada June 24, 2011 (phys.org) http://phys.org/news/2011-06-google-driverless-car-law-nevada.html

In May 2011, Google's attempted to get the Nevada state legislature to consider allowing users to driver UGV, or unmanned ground vehicles, that are more popularly know as self-driving cars on the states roads. At the time it seemed like an interesting notion and a bit of a pipe dream. The Nevada state legislature has just passed has just passed a bill, Assembly Bill No. 511, that does two things. First, the law allows the Nevada Department of Transportation to create rules and regulations regarding the use of self-driving cars, so that they can be used legally on the road. The second part of the law requires the Nevada state Department of Transportation to designate areas in which these vehicles can be tested.

Google looking to make driverless cars legal in Nevada May 13, 2011 (phys.org) http://phys.org/news/2011-05-google-driverless-cars-legal-nevada.html

In an unexpected move, Google, the wily search giant with loads of ambition and enough spare cash to enable it to dabble in technologies that appear to have nothing to do with its core business, has hired lobbyist David Goldwater to represent the company in its push to legalize the running of autonomous vehicles on Nevada roads; this comes less than a year after announcing that it had been running live tests of its self-driving vehicles on California roads.

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