Coming soon to Cali.: Cars without human drivers

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles is changing its rules to allow companies to test autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel - and to let the public use autonomous vehicles.

A Waymo self-driving vehicle. 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. Waymo, the self-driving auto unit of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, along with Ford, Tesla, Apple, General Motors and others filed comments in April with California suggesting changes. The vehicles must follow all state laws "except when necessary for the safety of the vehicle's occupants" or other road users. That's been removed in this updated version, with the DMV arguing that it was needlessly restrictive to continue demanding a person in each test vehicle. Once the new regulations go into effect, the companies testing these cars will no longer be required to have human drivers behind the wheel.

Assuming no further problems or arguments arise in the next fifteen day public comment period, the new set of rules will be handed over to the state government to finalize. The regulations are expected to be set by the end of the year and approved by the DMV early next year.

The DMV is also including a requirement that the autonomous vehicle be remotely monitored if there isn't a driver physically in the auto.

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The state is not changing its prohibition on the testing of autonomous trucks, arguing that a separate rule-making process will be needed to allow for the testing of self-driving vehicles over 10,000 pounds. The issue remains controversial, with some safety advocates saying the industry is pushing the technology forward too quickly.

Forty-two companies are already testing autonomous vehicles with backup drivers on California roads, using 285 vehicles, according to the DMV. Companies will have to wait for approval or a waiver for exemption from the federal government before they put a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads.

The proposed regulations recognize that responsibility for motor vehicle safety resides at the federal level, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is vested with the authority to develop and enforce compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. "It will take a much longer time - if it ever happens - for AVs to substantially displace traditional motor vehicles and predominate in the US motor vehicle fleet".

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