Driverless Cars Legalized In California

Posted on September 26, 2012 by LCT Magazine

Calif. gov. Edmund "Jerry" Brown, state senator Alex Padilla, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin stand by a driverless car they arrived in at Google HQ in Mountain View, Calif. Photo credit: AP/Eric RisbergIn a move that further endangers the existence of the word “fiction” in “science fiction,” California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law to legalize driverless cars to travel on public roads. California is the third state to officially legalize driverless cars, behind Nevada and Florida.

Google, which has been building and testing these cars, believes they eliminate almost all human error and are therefore safer than human-driven vehicles. They could also be more fuel-efficient.

(Related: Autonomous Autos: “Knight Rider” Is No Longer Fiction)

According to the New York Times, seven Google test cars — with a human behind the wheel only to take control if something goes wrong, and a technician in the passenger seat — have driven 1,400 miles without human intervention and 140,000 miles with minimal human control.

As Forbes reports, Google co-founder Sergey Brin pointed out other benefits: greater mobility for people with disability, more productivity for commuters stuck in traffic, less congestion and less pollution.

As amazing and progressive as this technology is, it could significantly impact the chauffeured ground transportation industry. It can certainly affect the automotive industry as a whole, and may pose a greater potential threat to the taxicab industry than the limo industry.

With an autonomous vehicle, people who cannot, should not or do not want to drive themselves may no longer need to rely on a human chauffeur. However, the other tasks performed by chauffeurs, including loading luggage, opening doors and responding to client questions and concerns, would still be in demand and require a human to perform.

It’s possible that chauffeured transportation operations of the future would consist of a fleet of driverless cars controlled from a central hub like a video game. They would come with a car-concierge who would perform all non-driving service tasks and be there to take over the wheel in case something goes wrong.

Or maybe Google will produce driverless, self-loading, automatic-door-opening cars that will be perfect for the industry. Then operators can hire from an employee pool spilling with the right skills and technical acumen required of the job: The video-game generation.

Read LCT’s coverage of Google’s driverless cars by clicking here.

— Michael Campos, LCT associate editor

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