2013's New Laws Govern Driverless Cars, Employee Passwords

NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with Jon Kuhl, public affairs and media manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures, about new laws going into effect Jan. 1. The laws include three tech-related rules in California — one about texting, another about driverless cars and a third about social media passwords.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. New laws go into effect across the country today and we're going to look at a few of them that all struggle with the same problem, how to keep up with technology. We're going to hear about three of them now from Jon Kuhl of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The first deals with that perplexing new phenomenon, driverless cars.

JON KUHL: Starting today, autonomous vehicles will legally be able to drive on the road in California for testing purposes. California's the third state in the nation to have this kind of law. Nevada and Florida are the other two. And it was a pretty big deal in California. Governor Jerry Brown signed the law at Google's headquarters.

He said when he was there, this is another example of how California's laws are turning today's science fiction into tomorrow's reality. The California DMV has two years from today, so January 1st, 2015, to start figuring out how they can register and give licenses for driverless cars.

CORNISH: And, of course, Google a very important part of this because their driverless cars helped the creation of their Google maps software become so popular.

KUHL: Exactly.

CORNISH: Now, onto another law for 2013. It's actually about social media passwords and this one isn't just California that's doing it.

KUHL: That's right. There are two laws in California that go into effect today and one in Illinois. The one in California, one in Illinois are similar in that they deal with employers. And basically what it says is employers cannot ask either a job applicant or a current employee to give them the passwords to their social networking sites.

The second law in California has to do with colleges and universities and what that law says is that the colleges can't ask either the student who is applying to go to school there or a current student for their social media passwords. And I guess the law comes in response, there were some admissions offices that were asking prospective students for these passwords and then also student athletes.

In terms of other states that have these laws, California and Illinois joined Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

CORNISH: And is this part of a growing movement? Are there other states that are considering it?

KUHL: Yeah, we saw about 14 states that considered these types of laws in 2012, so I would expect that there will probably be more going into 2013.

CORNISH: Now, a third new law, again we're looking at California, it deals with text messaging, only there is, of course, a loophole, right? So tell us a little bit about this law.

KUHL: California is one of 39 states, along with the District of Columbia, that bans texting while driving. The law that goes into place today amends their existing law and basically what it does is it says you can text while driving, but only if you can do so using a voice-operated hands-free phone.

CORNISH: Now, we've heard a lot over the past year about texting and driving, and for a while it seemed like a very kind of hot button issue. But in other states, are people dealing with this or are there bills under consideration?

KUHL: Yeah. It's been a big issue for the past couple years. I suspect that as newer technology advances, the laws will be more amending existing laws than creating new ones, but yeah, it's been a big issue.

CORNISH: When it comes to tech, it's no surprise that California is at the forefront of some of these laws. Is there something that people often look to California in the way it deals with tech, other states end up emulating?

KUHL: Yeah. I mean, California does seem to be at the first for a lot of these laws, but I should note that there's three states where, unless it's otherwise specified in the law, their laws automatically go into effect today, on New Year's Day. So for California, Illinois and Oregon, most of their laws do go into effect today unless it specifies right in the law itself.

CORNISH: That's Jon Kuhl of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Jon, thanks so much for the tech law update.

KUHL: Thank you.

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