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Google expands its self-driving car program to Washington state

Google’s self-driving cars will soon roam the roads of a third U.S. state. After unleashing them on the streets around its Mountain View, California, campus and then deploying additional cars in Austin, Texas, Google is adding Kirkland, Washington, to its list of testing locales.

This Seattle suburb already hosts a Google outpost, and officials have been trying to get the company to test its self-driving cars there for about four years, city manager Kurt Triplett told The Washington Post. The city government and Google have already worked together on projects including parks and recreational trails, but what Kirkland officials really wanted were those self-driving cars.

They gave Google assurances that nothing in the city code or state law would conflict with the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Some states, including California, Nevada, Michigan, and Virginia, have laws explicitly allowing autonomous cars to use public roads. Washington has no specific laws about self-driving cars, meaning there is no prohibition against them. Google and other companies have encouraged other states to explicitly legalize self-driving cars because of concerns over liability.

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The Pacific Northwest city also provides some testing conditions Google wants. Testing will begin in Kirkland’s hilly Juanita section, and because it rains more in Washington than California or Texas, researchers will have a better opportunity to see how precipitation affects cars’ operation.

So far, Google only plans to bring one self-driving car to Washington, according to The Seattle Times. That car is a converted Lexus RX 450h hybrid crossover, part of a contingent of hybrids that make up the bulk of Google’s autonomous test fleet. The homemade self-driving cars already testing in California and Texas won’t be deployed in Washington for the time being.

As Google’s self-driving car project continues, the company is showing increased interest in commercializing the technology. Last month, Google automotive boss John Krafcik said his main goal this year is to find an automaker to partner with for a production self-driving car.