California officials took a major step Wednesday toward allowing companies to test autonomous cars without anyone at the wheel or even in the vehicle, releasing a set of regulations on how those tests can be conducted. Much of the development work is concentrated in Silicon Valley where companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo LLC and Cruise Automation Inc. are testing vehicles on public roads. The revised rules clarify that passengers may ride in a self-driving vehicle as long as they are not paying fees.
The new draft regulations add requirements for companies testing self-driving cars to notify local authorities about where and when the testing will occur, but impose no requirement to ask for permission, the DMV said in a conference call.
Driverless auto manufacturers must first certify that the vehicles meet federal safety standards and that they meet standards for operating in compliance with traffic laws. 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.
The revised regulations will allow testing of autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the steering wheel and public use of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology.
"The department looks forward to seeing those companies and additional companies advance the technology under these new regulations", said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.
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The department received substantial feedback from manufacturers, consumer advocates, local government, insurance companies, and other stakeholders after it released a previous version of these regulations on March 10, 2017.
The new rules are expected to take effect by June 2018 and come as the U.S. Congress considers legislation to restrict the ability of states to impose limitations on self-driving cars.
The new regulations would require that manufacturers testing driverless cars on California roads certify that they're meeting federal standards and that any public paperwork shared with federal regulators on driverless testing is also passed to the DMV. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration would have to write permanent rules for self-driving vehicles as part of the bill.
To be sure, this isn't a clear path for fully autonomous vehicles to overrun the streets of California. In order to get a vehicle approved for public use in California, developers must prove the vehicles comply with both federal standards and state traffic laws.