Governor Brown Signs Autonomous Vehicle Law at Google

It’s a dangerous world out there and it may get a little more dangerous on the roads as of today.  CA’s Governor Brown visited Google on September 25th to sign SB1298, a bill that creates a legal framework and operational safety standards for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.  If your heart just stopped thinking about getting into an accident with a car that’s driving itself, so did mine.

The new legislation makes California the 3rd state in the United States to allow autonomously driven vehicles on its roads.  Last year, Nevada and Florida became the first and second.  The new law, which our legislature voted in last month, outlines a number of rules for operating autonomous vehicles on the California highways and roadways.

These include:
  • Only designated operators may operate an autonomous car.  Therefore, if the operator steps away from his controls, someone else who isn’t designated isn’t allowed to legally step in and take it for a joy ride.
  • There must be a person in the driver’s seat who could potentially take over control of the car if something were to go wrong.  That means you can’t just fix yourself a sandwich and fall asleep here. You do have to keep your eyes on the road in case the car isn’t doing its job.
  • The California DMV has until 2015 to draft specific guidelines which may further tighten controls. I’d love to be a fly on those walls. 
What Autonomously Driven Cars Might Mean to the Field of Personal Injury

I can already hear the chorus of excuses that will come from an accident with an autonomously driven vehicle.  “It wasn’t my fault; it was my car!”  “It can’t be my fault, my car was driving!” Personal accountability will be the first item on trial.

Autonomously driven cars are a cool invention if we can get it right.  But experience teaches us that technology has a significant life cycle wherein we have to work the bugs out.  Look at the steep learning curve for cellular phones.  If we can’t get turn by turn directions on our navigation applications, what chance do we have to control a vehicle from a computer application? We’re in the early bug testing phases it seems, and you get to share the roads with these test vehicles. 

Google’s last stunt was to stick a blind driver in an autonomously driven car.  Perhaps this time they’ll comply with the new laws and stick someone in the car that might be less of a shock to other drivers on the road. Nevertheless, I would expect some initial shock that may be accompanied by accident spikes as a result. 

If you’re struck by an autonomously driven vehicle, you could be making history here. Comb your hair to look good for the cameras. And do call a personal injury specialist to discuss your rights in this changing area of law.