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Sierra Daily

Sep 28, 2012

Well, You’re Not Watching the Road Anyway

Autonomous car L100288-cleanThis week California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that would allow self-driving cars on the state’s roads. The Los Angeles Times notes that “Tech giant Google Inc., Caltech and other organizations have been working to develop such vehicles, which use radar, video cameras and lasers to navigate roads and stay safe in traffic without human assistance. Google has said computer-controlled cars should eventually drive more safely than humans.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said that so-called autonomous cars could be ready for operation on public streets within a few years. As long as the on-board computer systems don’t get distracted by screaming kids in the back seat or try to shave or apply makeup while motoring, autonomous vehicles have the potential to make roads much safer, since human error causes most traffic accidents. “These vehicles have the potential to avoid accidents,” said Brin. “I expect that self-driving cars will be far safer than human driven cars.”

They also can reduce congestion, lower emissions, and increase fuel economy. Imagine your vehicle being able to accelerate and decelerate with NASA-like precision and anticipate traffic conditions near and far, all while you put your feet up and read the paper (that is, if papers still exist when autonomous vehicles hit the road). Transportation guru Tom Vanderbilt and Wired magazine put you behind the (hands free) wheel here

California’s bill establishes safety and performance standards for the operation of autonomous vehicles, among other things. The state’s move follows Nevada. Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are considering similar legislation.

Image of hands-free Google execs by Google Inc.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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