Right now in California, Google is testing a fleet of small, driverless cars, on some public roadways.

Yes, Automated, robotic cars without drivers. On the roads.

Google says the new cars are safe and can be programmed to avoid collisions, dangerous driving, traffic congestion and other hazards on the roadways. These autonomous vehicles can limit human error, increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions, simply by being better drivers than their human counterparts. So far their automated vehicles have logged over 200,000 miles without a single crash. They are still testing the cars and there is no rush to get them on the market, but the future seems pretty certain: Driverless cars are coming.

The question facing lawmakers now is how to handle these new cars, if (or rather when) they become a reality.

Last week the Law Review and High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University conducted a day long symposium to discuss the ramifications of having either all automated cars on the roadways or a mix of some driverless cars and some cars with human drivers. Among the questions they debated were liability in the event of a crash, or a traffic infraction. Does the cop write the computer a traffic ticket or the cars owner, or the programmer?

Last year became the first state allow driverless cars on public roads. That means automated cars can now take to the streets in Nevada, although nobody has one yet. Florida and Hawaii are in the process of debating the issue and California is poised to add its name to the list of states where automated vehicles would be street legal.

Proponents of the technology say the automated cars will make the streets safer, reduce congestion, improve fuel efficiency and give the United States a technological lead in automotive manufacturing. Opponents of the idea say the streets are dangerous with people behind the wheel. Adding driverless cars to the mix will only make things worse.

For now, the technology is still not where it needs to be for automated cars to start showing up on showroom lots. But it’s only a matter of time until they do.

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