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California to Issue Driving Licenses to Robots

The robot must, however, bring along a sane, sober, attentive, insured, licensed human driver to sit behind the wheel

1 min read
California to Issue Driving Licenses to Robots
Illustration: Randi Klett

California, eager to retain its role as legal arbiter to the auto world, in July will begin taking applications for driving licenses for self-driving cars. The licenses take effect in September.

The car will merely have to bring along a sane, sober, attentive, insured, licensed human driver to sit behind the wheel and quickly take over if need be. And the license will cost US $150 a pop. And the insurance policy must be for $5 million.

It's almost as if the law were crafted only for those who want to experimentwith robocars. By the way, companies will be allowed to take out 10 licenses apiece. Also, the person sitting behind the wheel must have been suitably trained by the car's manufacturer.

That means nobody will be able to sleep his way to work or sleep off his way back from a night of heavy drinking. But this rule is a first, and a certain amount of initial caution is well founded, certainly more than was the case in the earliest days of the automobile (which itself means "self-driving"). Back then, in some places—as an expert recalled in a book published in 1939—"a man with a red flag had to walk in front of the car, and that might easily have developed into a very strenuous job had not those who drafted the law seen this possibility and fixed the legal speed limit at four miles per hour."

It's all part of a forward-looking package that the California state legislature has stipulated must be turned into law by the end of the year. And what's law today in California often molds what companies and governments do tomorrow.

The Conversation (0)

We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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