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California sets rules for driverless cars

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that will pave the way for driverless cars in California.

Self-driving cars might sound like science fiction, but they are already cruising California’s roads and could be sold commercially within the next decade.

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The law seeks to establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

The governor signed it at the Mountain View headquarters of Google Inc.

The company’s fleet of a dozen computer-controlled vehicles — mostly Toyota Priuses equipped with self-driving technology — has logged more than 300,000 miles of self-driving without an accident, the company said.

Autonomous cars use computers, sensors, and other technology to operate independently, but a ‘‘driver’’ can override the autopilot function and take control of the vehicle at any time.

With smartphone-wielding drivers more distracted than ever, backers say, robotic vehicles have the potential to make roads significantly safer.

Supporters point out that nearly all car accidents are a result of human error.

The legislation requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles by 2015.

Currently, state law does not mention self-driving cars because the technology is so new.

The regulations would allow vehicles to operate autonomously, but a licensed driver would still need to sit behind the wheel to serve as a backup operator in case of emergency.

The legislation is also aimed at keeping California at the forefront of the autonomous car industry; Stanford University and Silicon Valley companies have been working on the technology for years.

In February, Nevada became the first state to approve regulations spelling out requirements for companies to test driverless cars on that state’s roads.

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