California plans to allow autonomous cars without backup drivers


But California won't be the first state to allow completely driverless cars on its roads.

In Arizona, Uber and Waymo have been giving rides to passengers in driverless cars without permission.

Regulations for testing autonomous vehicles with a driver in the vehicle have been in place since 2014, according to the DMV, which noted that "42 companies hold permits to test autonomous technology on California roads".

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles will allow autonomous cars without steering wheels, foot pedals, mirrors, and human drivers behind the wheel to be tested on its roads starting next year. "This amendment was necessary because requiring the technology to be "both remote and on board" could be unnecessarily limiting on the development of the technology; changing it to "and/or" provides the flexibility that the technology can reside either entirely, or partially, on or off-board".

The driverless cars that may begin appearing will mostly be test vehicles. Those critics have said states with softer regulations were attracting companies for driverless testing and putting California's reputation as the nation's technology innovation leader at risk.

Forty-two companies now have a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California. That distinction belongs to Florida, which remains "the only state to expressly allow a truly driverless vehicle", according to Law 360.

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Under the new rules, autonomous cars without a human driver will need a "minimal risk condition", basically a "safe mode" that the auto can default to if the autonomous sensors or computers fail. 42 companies are now registered with some 285 autonomous vehicles being tested now, and over 1,000 drivers are specially trained and registered to supervise those autonomous vehicles while they're on the road.

"Vehicle safety is the wheelhouse of the federal government", said Brian Soublet, head attorney at the DMV.

"The new California DMV proposal wrongly relies on the federal government, when there are absolutely no federal motor vehicle safety standards applying specifically to autonomous vehicle technology", said the group's spokesman John Simpson.

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In addition, companies must prove the vehicles can only operate autonomously in places it was created to, and they must furnish the DMV with all sorts of information about how the vehicles react to various issues that may or may not be programmed into the car's computers. It's this that the newly proposed driverless testing and deployment regulations addresses. Right now, these companies are testing cars that can at best be considered Level 3 autonomous, meaning they still require some human intervention. The new regulations should be in force sometime next year, although it may take a while after for companies to build out fully autonomous cars that comply with the new regulations.