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Automakers put speed bump in front of bill on driverless cars

April 10, 2012 |  5:29 pm

 A proposal to pave the way for driverless cars in California hit a detour Tuesday after the auto industry objected that it could set them up for lawsuits if the new technology is installed in one of their cars and causes a crash.

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee voted to support the legislation by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) but sent it back to other committees for additional hearings on the liability issues.

Google and other technology companies have been working for years on "autonomous vehicle" systems that would allow cars to operate safely without a human driver. Anthony Levandowski of Google told the lawmakers that technology is possible "that drives better than a person" and would reduce the number of car accidents on California roads.

SB 1298 would direct the California Highway Patrol to develop standards and performance requirements for the safe testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads and highways, Padilla said.

But the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Ford, Chrysler and Toyota among others, is concerned that allowing others to convert the cars they make to operate without drivers could put them at risk of being taken to court if accidents occur.

"Who’s going to get sued? We are," Gene Erbin, a lobbyist for the alliance told the committee. For that reason the Transportation Committee approved the bill but sent it to the Rules Committee for possible assignment to another panel for review on the liability question.

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--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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