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Google’s Driverless Cars Get Boost As California Mimics Nevada

Publication Date: 
March 01, 2012
Bloomberg News
Amanda J. Crawford

Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society Bryant Walker Smith spoke with Amanda J. Crawford of Bloomberg News on the steps that state governments can take in regulating the commercial use of driverless cars.

A California state senator arrived at a press conference at the Sacramento capitol today in a Google Inc.-modified Toyota Prius (7203) that drives itself.

Senator Alex Padilla announced new legislation written with Google’s input at the event, timed to coincide with new regulations allowing the world’s first autonomous vehicles to be road-tested and registered in neighboring Nevada. The bill reflects Mountain View, California-based Google’s latest push to show policymakers that while the cars of the future aren’t yet ready for public use, it’s time for laws to accommodate them.


Liability remains one of the major concerns that might delay commercial use of driverless cars for the public, Marchant said. There are also technical obstacles to overcome, such as evaluating obstructions on the road, said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow with the Palo Alto, California-based Center for Internet and Society and the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. And there are concerns about how the cars can be programmed to make value judgments, such as choosing to swerve off the road and crash to avoid hitting someone, Smith said.

‘Cost-Benefit Issues’

“There are tricky cost-benefit issues,” he said. “There are technical barriers to be overcome and non-technical issues.”


State laws should provide opportunities to work out how the new technology is regulated, without stifling development or pushing out some new players, Smith said.

“Innovators and companies want to know what the law is, but the law should also be flexible enough to permit the innovation,” he said.