California unveils new regulations to allow autonomous cars without driver

Those draft regulations would have put the kibosh on autonomous vehicles without a human driver, such as Google's steering wheel-less prototype.

"This amendment was necessary because requiring the technology to be "both remote and on board" could be unnecessarily limiting on the development of the technology; changing it to "and/or" provides the flexibility that the technology can reside either entirely, or partially, on or off-board", the DMV said of the rule changes.

The release of the revised regulations on Wednesday marks the start of a 15-day comment period from the public.

Since 2014, California has let companies test driverless vehicles with a driver behind the steering wheel.

The DMV is also including a requirement that the autonomous vehicle be remotely monitored if there isn't a driver physically in the auto.

On road safety, NHTSA has responsibility for regulating safety in the design and performance of vehicles, while states regulate drivers and vehicle operations. As of now, 42 companies hold permits to test autonomous vehicles on California roads, the DMV said. Many safety experts believe that robot cars will prove far safer than human drivers.

"Vehicle safety is the wheelhouse of the federal government", said Brian Soublet, head attorney at the DMV.

"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", said Consumer Watchdog privacy project director John Simpson. "We continue to require that a manufacturer ... certify that the vehicle will operate safely".

The new rules come with a growing number of tech firms and automakers testing self-driving vehicles, and follows new guidelines from the federal government aimed at spurring the technology widely believed to improve road safety and reduce accidents. Under the new rules, testers would simply be required to inform cities, towns and counties when and where the vehicles will be tested.

Currently, most companies are testing cars which could be considered Level 3 autonomous, which means they still require some human intervention, but the technology is advancing at a tremendous pace and it's expected large gains will be made in the next 12 months.

Congress is now considering legislation that would allow companies to manufacture and deploy cars without traditional controls like pedals and steering wheels.

The regulator's suggested changes to the Golden State's red tape, published Wednesday, would grease the wheels for testing next-gen self-driving rides, a move that will be welcomed by techies in Silicon Valley and beyond. The new regulations should be in force sometime next year, although it may take a while after for companies to build out fully autonomous cars that comply with the new regulations.

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