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California Changes Course On Self-Driving Vehicles, New (Proposed) Rules Allow Testing Without A Driver (With Approval)

The California DMV has apparently changed its mind as regards self-driving vehicle testing without human drivers, following the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s announcement that the computers inside self-driving vehicles could be considered “drivers.”

The California DMV has apparently changed its mind as regards self-driving vehicle testing without human drivers, following the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s announcement that the computers inside self-driving vehicles could be considered “drivers.”

In other words, it will apparently soon be legal to test self-driving vehicles in California without humans being present in the car … if the California DMV specifically grants you approval, that is.

This follows the California DMV’s release not too long ago of draft regulations that would have prohibited self-driving vehicle testing with human overseers.

The new proposed rules also regulate the sale and manufacture of fully autonomous vehicles, it should be noted. The new rules don’t concern self-driving semi trucks or motorcycles, though.

The Verge provides more: “But the DMV argues that it hasn’t changed its attitude about self-driving cars. As long as these robot cars are compliant with federal rules governing safety, and as long as they are ‘programed’ to obey California traffic laws, then they are okay by California’s book. Recently, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that the computer inside a self-driving car can be considered the ‘driver’ of the vehicle. The California DMV, it would seem, is shifting responsibility to the federal government to ensure fully self-driving cars are safe and road-ready.”

“If you program your vehicle to obey the law, it’s not going to run over pedestrians, or crash into other vehicles,” stated Brian Soublet, chief counsel at the California DMV, in a conference call with reporters today. “I don’t want to say we’re comfortable. We believe we’re requiring certification from the manufacturers that they’re ready and that the vehicles themselves are able to operate without causing some harm.”

So, to be clear on that, self-driving vehicle testing without human overseers is still pending regulator approval in California. It’s simply the case now that such testing is “legal” — even if still subject to individual approval.

So, what’s the reason for the shift (besides the NHTSA announcement)? Probably that other states — such as Arizona and Texas — are being much more accommodating, so stand to siphon testing activity from California if the regulatory hurdles are too great in the Golden State.

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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