As for why it passed 37-0, it’s almost all upside; all the data indicate that it can only reduce the externalities of vehicle usage (pollution, accidents), which externalities are already very well documented and understood. Even where the technology breaks down, a single point of failure (autonomous driving system) is far easier to analyze, budget for, and litigate from a product liability point of view. Google is much more likely to be a rational actor than an aggregated population of vehicle users, and risk premium can be very easily calculated for the number of vehicles that are deployed. As adoption increases, the roads are likely to get safer and faster; my only real worry would be about whether manual driving would be restricted and penalized. Then again, since I don’t have a car that’s largely an academic concern to me. I used to enjoy riding a motorcycle but I feel fairly confident that an automated driver would do a better job than I would over the long haul.
The other big reason is economic; with all the data pointing towards automated driving as the wave of the future and the leading commercial innovator being here in California, and California facing a $16 billion deficit, the prospect of Mountain View becoming Detroit 2.0 for a global market is a no-brainer. California has also been quietly stepping towards building an electric car infrastructure: Gov. Brown used his powers to take a windfall legal settlement related to the CA power crisis a decade ago (think Enron) and apply it to the construction of charging infrastructure without needing to get legislative approval. http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=17463
I’m thinking that automated clean vehicle swarms are the increasingly-credible strategic alternative to high-speed rail in California. I really like trains, but the HSR project looks like a fiscal, bureaucratic, and legal disaster. If we can slash the costs of driving then we could probably cut down the cost of vehicle construction, not to mention creating an entirely new set of goods for manufacture. With reliable automated vehicles, you don’t necessarily need people to drive them, so pickup and delivery could essentially be done by autonomous large wheelbarrows instead of needing to have cabs on the front for humans to sit in.
Also, Johnny cabs: