Californians could see cars driving themselves in about a month. Regulations recently were approved for driverless cars to be tested on California roadways for the first time without a human being behind a steering wheel.
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Before the new regulations were approved, humans needed to be in the vehicle to serve as back-up drivers to take over in an emergency. The cars will not be marked, just sans a human being.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles set the ground rules for the next phase of autonomous car testing, allowing manufacturers to apply for testing permits when the regulations go into effect April 2.
Permit criteria for testing includes telling police the time, date and streets where testing will occur, and the companies must continuously monitor the vehicle and be ready to take over if needed.
Companies must also submit a plan to police in case there is a crash, so officers can know where to find registration and proof of insurance. Police officers also should be able to disengage the autonomous mode.
The rules, approved by California’s Office of Administrative Law, also outline a plan for consumers to eventually buy driverless cars.
“I think this is a move that had to happen for California to stay competitive in this field,” Nidhi Kalra, a scientist who has been studying the issue for a decade told the Associated Press. “You can’t test what true, full autonomy looks like unless there’s no driver at all.”
Some advocacy groups are slamming the new regulations, saying autonomous cars have not been proven safe enough to be driven without a human backup.
“It will be just like playing a video game, except lives will be at stake,” said John Simpson, director for Consumer Watchdog.
Jean Shiomoto, DMV director, said “safety is our top concern.”
Car manufacturers are getting ready for the push to market. Last year, Tesla Inc. said it is making hardware for the self-driving machines and is still in a software testing phase. Mercedes, BMW, Ford, Nissan and Volvo say it will be about two years before their driverless vehicles are available.
Waymo is not commenting on its rollout schedule, but the autonomous vehicle division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, began operating its autonomous minivans on public roads in Arizona without a safety driver in October 2017. The cars did not have free rein over Arizona’s roads and were geofenced within a 100-square-mile area in a suburb of Phoenix.
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