By Mary Slosson
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California took a step toward becoming the second state in the nation to allow self-driven cars on its roads on Monday, as the state Senate unanimously agreed to allow autonomously driven vehicles such as those pioneered by Google.
Google's self-driving cars have already crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and driven along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, according to the company, which has taken California lawmakers on test drives.
"I had the pleasure of going out for a drive on the autonomous vehicle," California state Senator Alan Lowenthal said before the unopposed vote. "I have to say that there are some still issues with it, but it's a better driver than I am."
The California bill, which passed in a 37-0 vote, will now go to the state Assembly for consideration before heading to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. If passed and signed, it would go into effect in January 2013.
Google's self-driven cars rely on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers, and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to help navigate, according to the company, which pioneered the experimental technology in 2010.
"This technology is coming," Senator Alex Padilla, the bill's sponsor, said on the Senate floor. "We've got to embrace the technology and embrace the benefit that comes with it, but do so in a way that abides by the safety requirements and regulations of our roads."
Padilla, Lowenthal and other state Senators test-rode autonomous vehicles before voting on the legislation.
"When it's you in that drivers seat, and you engage the autonomous technology, take your hands off the wheel and foot off the pedal, it's not until then that you appreciate how sophisticated the technology is," Padilla said after the vote, adding that the unanimous bipartisan support is a good indication of smooth sailing through the Assembly.
The Nevada legislature was the first to authorize self-driving cars last year. The measure went into effect in March and in May, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles issued an autonomous vehicle license for a Toyota Prius that Google had modified.
Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are also considering autonomous vehicles legislation. Other automakers are working on similar self-driven car technology.
(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz)