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Self-Driving Cars Will Soon Be Legal in California

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It should be no surprise that the California is spearheading that movement to get self-driving cars street legal. After all, Google's self-driving cars are being tested here and they're frequently seen driving themselves on Silicon Valley streets.

But is it as easy as just simply making these things and sticking them on the road? Not quite ... but you already knew that.

ABA and Local Government

Recently, the ABA sponsored a program that went over the state and local government laws in San Diego, California. It is not as easy as simply making the vehicles and just putting them on the road, at least according to the Chief Counsel of the California DMV, Brian Soublet. "Self-driving" is still a rather amorphous term that doesn't really owe allegiance to any standard definition. So, it may be a case of "make em ... but are they legal?"

They Will Be, Soon Enough

Self-driving cars have been characterized by some as rolling computers, an epithet intended to caste doubt on these machines -- but those people forget that commercial airlines are frequently flown by computer already, so the skepticism is perhaps premature.

Insults notwithstanding, predictions are that self-driving vehicles (or some version of them) will not only be legal here in the Bay Area, but legal nationally within three to five years. Does this mean that they will be common? Not by a long shot. According to Soublet, Americans tend to hang onto their cars for quite a while. The average age of cars on the road is about 11 years.

Industry Push to Legalize Self-Driving Cars

As it is, however, there is a strong public policy push (and perhaps negligence issues afoot) that motivate for a human to remain behind the wheel in the car ... just in case. But even if the human is there in the car, it still takes additional time for that human to intervene before it all goes terribly wrong -- time that probably would not have to be factored in with a traditional car.

According to Soublet, however, there has been an industry push for the feds to get involved in certifying self-driving vehicles and regulating them for road legality. Otherwise, state and local laws may be in conflict -- and what a nightmare that would be!

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