California plans to allow autonomous cars without backup drivers

By Allen Cone  |  Oct. 11, 2017 at 2:53 PM
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Oct. 11 (UPI) -- California is developing a plan to allow the testing of driverless cars without someone behind the steering wheel by next June.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Motor Vehicles released proposed rules. The department is seeking public comment until Oct. 25.

Officials hope to submit final regulations by the end of this year and allow the cars to pick up non-paying passengers without a backup driver by June.

"We are excited to take the next step in furthering the development of this potentially life-saving technology in California," California transportation secretary Brian Kelly said in a statement.

Since 2014, California has let companies test driverless vehicles with a driver behind the steering wheel. Currently, 42 companies are testing autonomous vehicles on California roads in 285 vehicles, according to the DMV.

In the proposed regulations, companies testing self-driving cars must notify local authorities but don't need permission about where and when the testing will occur, the DMV said in a conference call that included the San Jose Mercury News.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only requires self-driving vehicles to meet federal safety requirements in the design and performance of vehicles.

The administration has responsibility to regulate safety in the design and performance of vehicles, while states regulate drivers and vehicle operations.

"The new California DMV proposal wrongly relies on the federal government, when there are absolutely no federal motor vehicle safety standards applying specifically to autonomous vehicle technology," John Simpson, spokesman for the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, said in a statement. "Under the Trump administration approach, automakers can glance at the [federal] policy and say, 'That's nice,' and then do whatever they want as they use our roads as private laboratories and threaten highway safety," Simpson said.

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has approved legislation that permits the sale of self-driving cars without steering wheels or other manual controls. The U.S. House passed the measure in September.

In Arizona, Uber and Waymo have been giving rides to passengers in driverless cars without permission.

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