This week California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing driverless cars, like the ones currently being tested by Google, to be operated on all California roadways. The caveat is that someone, a licensed driver no less, will still need to be seated behind. a functioning steering wheel, ready, willing and able to take control of the vehicle at any time in case the computer has a meltdown.
Despite these caveats California has now become the third state, and by far the largest state, to allow autonomous vehicles to operate on their roadways. Also, because these cars are still being tested and legislators are manufacturers are still trying to understand how to integrate the technology needed in a streamlined sort of way that meets their specific engineering criteria, it will likely be at least five years, if not much longer until these cars start showing up in showrooms.
And how much will they really affect the way we get around now? The bill clearly states that a licensed driver must be seated behind the wheel at all times, so it’s not as if these cars will help blind people get around (as had been hoped) or help elderly seniors who have surrendered their license. No, these vehicles will likely only help the very wealthy multi-taskers in our society who want to be able to conduct business during their daily commute, or allow the laziest among us to watch a movie while they ‘drive’ around town.
Granted, once these vehicles prove they are safe and reliable it seems likely the regulations limiting their use may be lifted, but since it will be almost a decade until we see any autonomous cars on the road, and some real world testing will need to be done for several years before legislators take any action, it seems as if the 21st century will be mostly over before driverless cars really start making a difference in our lives.