California: State DMV Backs Allowing Self-Driving Cars With No Human On Board

(San Francisco Chronicle) Self-driving cars with no human behind the wheel — or, for that matter, any steering wheel at all — may soon appear on California’s public roads, under regulations state officials proposed Friday.

The rules represent a delicate balance, trying to ensure the safety of a new technology many people don’t trust while avoiding tough restrictions that could send car companies fleeing to other states.

Until now, California has required all 27 companies testing autonomous cars in the state to have someone in the driver’s seat, ready to take over, when testing on public roads. And those vehicles needed to have steering wheels and brake pedals, even if some self-driving car engineers didn’t consider them necessary.

Both of those requirements would disappear under the new regulations proposed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Instead, automakers would need to certify to the state that their own testing — either on closed tracks or through computer modeling — shows the cars are ready to operate on public roads with no one behind the wheel. Tests with no driver would require an operator monitoring the car, ready to steer via remote control if necessary.

And if automakers want to deploy cars without such standard controls as a steering wheel and pedals, they would first need the approval of federal highway safety officials.

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