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California To Give The Green Light To Truly Driverless Cars

Eric Risberg / AP

Eric Risberg / AP

Updated 4:01 p.m. -- Autonomous vehicles with no drivers inside could hit California roads this year, under new rules proposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles on Friday. The proposal would relax current driverless car testing standards that technology companies have lobbied against as too onerous.

Under the proposed rules, companies could receive permission to remove drivers, steering wheels and pedals in their autonomous vehicles, and instead operate them remotely in the event of automation problems. The DMV currently licenses 27 different companies to test autonomous vehicles in California, but it requires human drivers inside, who can physically operate the car.

The state would also take a comparatively hands-off approach to providing approval for cars to take the road. Companies would self-certify that their vehicles meet federal standards.

DMV chief counsel Brian Soublet says it’s similar to how the state licenses cars and the driver’s license test for civilian drivers.

“It’s a minimal test. You’re just basically seeing that they have the skills to operate the vehicles, and then of course there’s all the post-licensing discipline that goes along with it,” Soublet says. “We believe that the same type of structure is being established here.”

Once manufacturers can certify their vehicles meet federal safety standards and comply with California driving laws, they could apply to the DMV to operate and sell them commercially.

Other changes to current and previously floated rules include:

  • Companies would not need approval from local governments to drive through them. Rather, they would need support from the main jurisdiction where tests would be held.

  • Similarly, instead of coordinating with law enforcement, companies would have to submit a plan for how they can communicate in the event of vehicular problems.

  • The rules remove a requirement that autonomous vehicle manufacturers turn over data to law enforcement within 24 hours of a crash. Instead, police could request that information with a warrant.

The DMV expects to finalize the rules before the end of the year.

(AP) — Cars with no steering wheel and nobody at all inside could be driving themselves on California roads by the end of the year.

In a powerful boost to the industry from the nation's most populous state, California's Department of Motor Vehicles is proposing rules that would open the way for truly driverless cars.

For the past two years, tech companies and automakers have been testing self-driving cars on California's roads. But regulators insisted that those vehicles have steering wheels, pedals and human backup drivers who could take over in an emergency.

Now that could change.

That would a major advance, given California's size, its clout as the nation's biggest car market, and its longtime role as a cultural and technology trendsetter.

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