California legalizes driverless cars—Is Oregon next?


long with Nevada and Florida, California has now explicitly legalized driverless cars. While there is no law saying that a car has to have a driver, there were also no laws saying that a car could be on the road without one.

These states are the first to change that, which makes Google’s driverless cars not only technically legal, but protected by law.

Google's modified Toyota Prius can navigate safely on streets and, in an emergency, the human driver can take over just by grabbing the wheel.

We’ve talked about driverless cars before, so be sure to read up on it to get some history and context on the topic. (One interesting tidbit is that it’s a very recent innovation: This all arguably started with a DARPA contest called the Grand Challenge in 2004. In fact, Google hired the winners.)

It’s great that these three states now have driverless cars. But what about Oregon? When do we get to have them?

First, let’s take a look at what these three states have in common: Nevada, Florida and California are all closer to the southern half of America, meaning they’re much warmer. And except for some parts of Florida, they’re usually sunny. That basically takes weather out of the equation, making it easy for lawmakers to OK a car with nobody behind the wheel.

A lot of Oregon is like that, too. It’s often pretty sunny in the south part of the valley, and eastern Oregon is extremely sunny and dry!

Compared to California's 14-lane roads, Oregon's 6-lane freeways are much safer.

But a lot of us Oregonians see a ton of rain (kind of dangerous) and, in the winter, sometimes even snow (dangerous) or ice (even more dangerous). All you have to do is search YouTube to see how hilariously bad even human drivers are in the ice. Imagine how difficult it would be to program a car to drive safely, even with studded tires or chains.

More importantly, imagine how hard it would be to convince a lawmaker that you programmed a car to drive safely in the ice, then the lawmaker probably can’t even do it.

But weather aside, it’s likely that we could get driverless cars soon. Oregon is known for technical innovation (sometimes called “Silicon Forest,” like California is “Silicon Valley”), (especially compared to Nevada, Florida and California) courteous drivers, and progressive lawmakers.

Combined with these things, the weather and unique combination of hilly coastal roads, winding valley roads, and safe eastern-Oregon roads would be a great proving ground for Google to show just how capable their cars are. Let’s see what Google decides!

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