Autonomous cars without backup drivers could come to California roads before June

Look no hands

Look no hands

California has permitted self-driving auto tests with a human driver ready to take control since September 2014.

The Waymo driverless auto is displayed during a Google event on December 13, 2016, in San Francisco.

As of this writing, 42 different companies have been approved for permits to test autonomous vehicles on Californian public roads, and that number is likely to grow as the tech grows closer to production.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has updated its rules governing self-driving vehicle testing, removing the requirement that a human backup driver be present in the auto and ready to take over. The technology is still being developed.

Assuming that happens, manufacturers testing hundreds of driverless prototypes will begin unleashing those vehicles on California roads, according to the DMV. DMV officials said the department hoped to submit final regulations by the end of the year, and that they could be approved by June or before.

Driverless cars are already operating in Arizona, Florida and several other states that have looser regulations than California or no specific driverless regulations at all.

Interestingly, the DMV doesn't specify what method any remote safety driver might use to interact with the driverless vehicle, only saying that there must be a way to constantly communicate with any occupants. Many safety experts believe that robot cars will prove far safer than human drivers.

"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 Consumer Watchdog privacy project director John Simpson.

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. But then in May, the agency reversed itself, putting out a new proposal that would not only allow for the testing of self-driving cars without a human driver, but also regulate the manufacture and sale of fully autonomous vehicles.

The new regulations would trim back existing rules that require municipalities to approve vehicle testing. That potentially opens the door to a distant operations center where safety drivers monitor autonomous vehicles and can take over from their keyboard, leaving all the seats in the auto itself free for passengers. Right now, these companies are testing cars that can at best be considered Level 3 autonomous, meaning they still require some human intervention.

The Senate version of the proposed law would not allow large driverless trucks. 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.

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