California May Soon Allow Human-Free Vehicle Testing

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Self-driving cars, especially the entirely driverless kind, may be seeing the end of their rough run regarding the laws surrounding them in California, likely by the end of this year. A new bill is already on the table that, if passed, would allow for fully autonomous vehicles with no control mechanisms or human drivers to be tested on public roads in the state. According to state secretary Brian Kelly, the move is one of the state's first in setting the stage for fully autonomous vehicles to operate commercially in the state. Right now, California's laws do not allow for fully autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads, requiring them to have conventional controls and a human driver ready to take the wheel at any time. This new bill would supersede the old proposal, should it pass.

The proposed law would allow fully autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads only under certain conditions. For starters, the vehicles have to meet or exceed federal and local safety standards, and companies making them must swear that they do. Fully driverless vehicles will still have to have human backup, but not on site; a remote driver must be present, who is able to monitor the vehicle, exert an as yet undisclosed level of control, and communicate with passengers inside the vehicle. Soublet said that California's existing laws surrounding self-driving cars will be reshaped with heavy influence from fairly recent federal law changes that are aimed at working toward allowing fully autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads.

Thus far, California has already granted licenses that have made it possible for some 27 companies to test their own self-driving vehicles in the state, but none have any sort of special authorization to operate fully autonomous vehicles, even hometown hero Google. The newest member of that club is Uber, who is in the midst of a legal battle surrounding the same technology, among other legal troubles. There was no word on whether it will be easier for those who already have licenses to test self-driving cars to get new licenses for fully autonomous vehicles than it would otherwise be. For the time being, it is to be assumed that they will have to go through the same process and vetting as anybody else in order to put fully driverless cars on the road.

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