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California Paves the Way for Cars With Empty Driver's Seats

Proposed regulations would let companies test self-driving cars on public roads without a human driver present.
California Paves the Way for Cars With Empty Driver's Seats
Image credit: Mark Wilson | Getty Images
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Officials in California proposed new rules on Friday that would let companies test autonomous cars on public roads with no human driver present.

The proposal is a significant update to the state's self-driving car regulations adopted in 2014, which allow testing on public roads only if a driver is inside the vehicle. With the new rules, companies that want to test cars without human drivers will have to apply for a special permit and meet federal standards defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To be approved for the permit, companies will also have to obtain written support from the jurisdiction that they want to test in, which suggests that local governments could object to testing on their streets.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, 21 companies are currently testing autonomous vehicles in the state. Among them are tech companies such as Waymo, which took over Google's self-driving project last year, as well as traditional automakers such as Toyota and BMW.

"California has more manufacturers testing autonomous vehicles than any other state and today's rules continue our leadership with this emerging technology," California Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly said in a statement. The state's updated regulations will now enter a 45-day public comment period before they are adopted.

Although California is a hotbed of autonomous vehicle research, it is not the only state that is working on regulations to govern the industry. In December, Michigan adopted new laws that establish comprehensive self-driving car regulations and made it the first state to allow completely autonomous ride-sharing fleets.

 
 

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