Breslow credited Estrada with making suggestions that made the regulations far shorter, and less onerous, than they would have been. "We quickly jumped in ... to help figure out what the regulation should look like," recalled Estrada.
While others attended the meetings, Google seemed to have a special seat at the table.
Bryant Walker Smith, who teaches the law of self-driving cars as a fellow at Stanford University, described one rule-drafting session where Google — not the DMV — responded to suggestions from auto industry representatives.
"It wasn't always clear who was leading," Smith said. It seemed to him that both Google and the DMV felt ownership of the rules.
By the end of 2011, Nevada welcomed the testing of driverless cars on its roads. Google, however, was focused on its home state, where its Priuses and Lexuses outfitted with radar, cameras and a spinning tower of laser sensors were a regular feature on freeways.
In many ways, Google replicated its Nevada playbook: Frame the debate. Wow potential allies with joy rides. Argue that driverless cars would make roads safer and create jobs.
In January 2012, Google met with state Sen. Alex Padilla, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering graduate. Padilla was intrigued, and agreed to push a bill. Padilla said Nevada's law helped him sell colleagues on the need to act.
"California is home to two things. Number one is the hotbed of innovation and technology. And second, we love our cars. So it only made even more sense to say, 'OK we need to catch up and try and lead the nation,'" Padilla said.
Nevada's swift action, he said, "sent the signal to a lot of colleagues that, 'No, this is not one we want to overthink and study for five years before we take action.'" After all, who in California government wanted a flagship company moving jobs out of the state.
In March 2012, Padilla rode in the driver's seat of a Google car with Levandowski riding shotgun to the news conference announcing his legislation.
In the months that followed, various groups tried to shape Padilla's bill.
One was the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which objected that automakers would be liable for the failure of Google technology strapped onto one of their cars. Trial lawyers, a powerful constituency in the state, successfully lobbied to keep automakers on the hook.
Some inside the Capitol concluded that Padilla was most attuned to Google.
One thing that troubled Howard Posner, then the staffer on the Assembly Transportation Committee responsible for analyzing the bill and suggesting improvements, was that Padilla's legislation would let cars operate without a human present.
Posner argued that lawmakers shouldn't authorize this last step until the technology could handle it. The response, he said, was that Padilla didn't want to do that — "which in my mind meant Google was not willing to do that."
Padilla said that while Google's high profile helped the bill succeed, his office made the decisions. "We're always going to have the final say," he said.
In September 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown went to Google's headquarters and signed Padilla's bill.
Now, California's motor vehicles officials face an end-of-year deadline to write regulations that will allow driverless cars to go from testing to use by the public in June 2015.
At a DMV hearing in March, two Google representatives sat next to DMV staff at the head tables. Their message: Now that self-driving cars were legal, the state should not regulate them too strictly.
Follow Justin Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman
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