Google’s Driverless Cars Permitted by New California Law

Self-driving cars will be permitted to motor around the most populous U.S. state, at least on a test basis, after California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law written with the help of Google Inc.

The new law allows testing of autonomous vehicles on the state’s roadways as long as there’s a fully 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 of the car simply 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’s inspired the regulatory push 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 lost less than 1 percent to $749.16 at the close in New York. The stock has advanced 16 percent this year.