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Google’s Driverless Cars Permitted by New California Law

By Michael B. Marois
September 26, 2012 12:01 AM EDT

Self-driving cars will soon motor around the most populous U.S. state, at least on a test basis, after a law written with the help of Google Inc. (GOOG) was signed by California Governor Jerry Brown.

The law signed yesterday allows trials of autonomous vehicles on the state’s roadways as long as there’s a licensed human in the driver’s seat to take over if needed.

“Today we are looking at science fiction become tomorrow’s reality,” Brown said at a signing ceremony at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Google, the operator of the world’s largest Internet search engine, has modified a Toyota Prius that drives itself using video cameras, radar sensors, a laser rangefinder and detailed maps. The vehicle includes a failsafe mechanism that lets the driver take control by grabbing the steering wheel or hitting the brakes, much like the override on a cruise control.

While major carmakers are working on self-driving prototypes and rolling out semi-autonomous features such as parking assistance, lane-departure warning systems and adaptive cruise control, it’s Google’s car that inspired the push for regulatory clearance first in Nevada last year and now in California.

“Anybody who gets into a car and finds the car driving itself is going to be skittish at first,” said Brown, who took a test ride. “But they will get over it.”

The law directs the Department of Motor Vehicles to develop regulations governing the licensing, bonding, testing and operation of autonomous vehicles.

Google’s shares were little changed at $749.16 in New York yesterday, one day after reaching a record $749.38, the highest since its initial public offering in August 2004. The stock advanced 16 percent this year before today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at mmarois@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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