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California senator rides in self-driving Google car, proposes autonomous driving legislation

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Recently, California Senator Alex Padilla made his way by car to the state capitol, only he wasn’t driving, nor was he being driven – well not by a person anyways. No, Sen. Padilla was chauffeured by one of Google’s self-driving Toyota Prius hybrids.

The senator, who represents California’s Senate District 20 (San Fernando Valley), announced he would be holding a press event today, March 1, along with Google officials, regarding the introduction of Senate Bill 1298, which seeks to establish guidelines for autonomous vehicle testing in the state of California, and enforcement protocols by the California Highway Patrol.

“The vast majority of accidents are due to human error. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to reduce traffic fatalities and improve safety on our roads and highways,” said Sen. Padilla in a statement.

Sen. Padilla’s proposed legislation comes in the wake of similar legislation passed into law by the state of Nevada earlier this month, which outlined requirements for testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Why introduce legislation on autonomous driving, even though such technology is still a ways off for the masses? Well, given California’s long-standing position as a thriving tech Mecca — and with companies like BMW, Volkswagen, and Google enjoying a presence with various research and testing facilities — it makes sense California would want to establish formal guidelines and rules, which would help further down the road when autonomous vehicles become commonplace.

“California is uniquely positioned to be the leader in the deployment of autonomous technology,” said Sen. Padilla.

But what actually constitutes “autonomous technology?” As we previously noted, there are various levels of autonomous driving technology, some of which are already found in certain cars.

According to Sen. Padilla’s proposed legislation, cars with semi-autonomous technology ,such as lane departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and self-parking technology would not fall under SB 1298, which is defines “autonomous vehicle” as “ a motor vehicle that uses computers, sensors, and other technology and devices that enable the vehicle to safely operate without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator.”