Truly driverless cars will soon be allowed on California’s roads
The California DMV is almost ready to allow autonomous vehicles on the state’s public roads without a human test driver behind the wheel.
The state’s regulators released a set of proposed revisions to its policies that, once passed, will also grant the public permission to use self-driving cars. The new rules are now subject to a 15-day public comment period, which closes on Oct. 25.
The DMV’s proposals are meant to conform to new federal regulations for driverless cars, which cleared through a Senate panel earlier this month, and await a vote after passing in the House in September.
We might not see the human-free systems in action immediately if the rules go into effect in 2018 — most companies have only shown off autonomous platforms that are capable of “Level 3” autonomy, which means there is some need for human operation — but the road ahead is clear for more advanced tech.
The move marks a shift in self-driving car testing. If the rules pass, we might see more prototypes out in the wild that lack standard features like steering wheels, pedals, and mirrors — the types of vehicles that Google and Ford have described as the ultimate future for automotive transportation.
Test vehicles laden with sensors have collected road data on California’s streets for a few years now — but there has always been a human operator ready to take control in case the computer system controlling the car failed. If a company wanted to test out its platform sans driver, it wouldn’t be allowed on public roads.
That’s largely because the DMV required companies testing on public roads to submit annual disengagement reports, which disclose the number of times a human operator was needed to take control of the vehicle. Some of the new rules will address those disengagement reports, while others will give companies more guidance on operating the test vehicles with public passengers.
The California DMV has proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the self-driving development space. Uber learned the hard way not to cross the regulatory body, as its pilot autonomous passenger program was booted from the state when Uber refused to register for a permit. (The ride-hailing company has since obtained permission from the DMV to test its tech in San Francisco without public passengers.)
The California DMV has proved to be a force to be reckoned with
The DMV has granted 42 companies permission to test out self-driving tech on public roads, and has nearly 1,000 registered operators for the autonomous vehicles. With major players like Lyft, Uber, Waymo, and Tesla headquartered in the state, it’s no surprise that its regulations are becoming more progressive.
There are public self-driving pilots on the road in other states, most notably Waymo’s in Arizona and Uber’s in Pennsylvania. Since Silicon Valley is the main hub for development in the tech world, however, California could be where we start to see driverless cars really take off — so the state’s DMV is embracing that future.