California will allow fully autonomous cars without safety drivers to test on public roads for the first time. The state Department of Motor Vehicles announced the change today, which describes a permitting process for companies wishing to deploy driverless vehicles without anyone behind the wheel.
"This is an important step forward for autonomous technology in California," DMV director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. "Safety is our main concern and we are ready to start working with the manufacturers that are prepared to test completely driverless vehicles in California."
Last October, the California DMV issued revised standards governing the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Among its many provisions, the new rules would allow autonomous cars without rudders, pedals, mirrors and human drivers behind the wheel to be tested on their roads as of 2018.
California is an obvious hotbed for testing autonomous vehicles
Today, the Administrative Law Office of the DMV approved the regulations that would allow testing without a driver. On March 2, a public notice will be posted on the DMV website, which initiates a 30-day clock before the first permits can be issued on April 2. Companies can request three types of permits: tests with a safety controller, driverless tests and driverless tests on public roads.
California is an obvious hotbed for autonomous vehicle testing, so changes to the state standards that govern these tests are closely followed by companies like General Motors, Waymo and Uber that are developing fleets of driverless cars for public use. . There are currently 50 companies testing nearly 300 autonomous vehicles licensed by the DMV, authorities said.
About 1,000 security drivers are licensed to test those vehicles, but after the state's rules come into force, companies will be allowed to roll out cars without any humans behind the wheel.
Congress is currently considering legislation that would allow companies to manufacture and deploy cars without traditional controls such as pedals and steering wheels. The bills would also prevent states from establishing their own laws to oversee autonomous testing, which could clash with California's well-established system. But the bill is stuck in the Senate, and several lawmakers expressed concern about the amount of room for maneuver that is offered to the private sector.