California to Soon Allow Self-Driving Vehicles to Operate Freely without Human Drivers

13 Mar
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By Anmol Sachdeva, The Tech Portal

With today’s update, it seems California is steadily accepting the advent of self-driving vehicles as the future of transportation. Though the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had previously taken a hard stance against self-driving cars without drivers. But they’ve now surprisingly decided to give such vehicles a green signal to operate on public roads in the coming months.

Under newly proposed regulations for self-driving vehicles, the California DMV is now dropping the previous requirement for human drivers to be present behind the steering wheel during public roads trails. Not only this, the state has also backtracked on another rule which required self-driving test vehicles to have a steering wheel and pedals.

During a conference call with reporters, California DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet said,

When we think of driverless vehicles they can either have conventional controls, which are steering wheels, pedals, things like that, or they cannot.

The presence of these controls was previously seen as a precaution, which allowed the human operator to take control of the vehicle in emergency situations. But, since we’re already removing the human driver from this equation, thus, there is no longer a need for these controls in autonomous vehicles. The DMV is also regulating its stance on the manufacture and sale of fully autonomous vehicles — no steering, no pedals, no humans to take over.

But, mind you, this doesn’t mean that the California DMV has softened its attitude towards self-driving technology. The DMV still isn’t completely comfortable with the idea of vehicles driving all by themselves but is ready to accept the transition. It will only embrace the said technology until it has approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and operating in compliance with federal safety laws. Further, talking about the same, Soublet added,

If you program your vehicle to obey the law, it’s not going to run over pedestrians, or crash into other vehicles. 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.

NHTSA has already accepted that self-driving software programs can also be considered human drivers, once they’re programmed to obey traffic laws by the book. This has been defined as a mandatory by the DMV, who has already run into several regulatory as well as safety haggles with Uber in the previous year. The feud caused the ride-hailing giant to abandon its tests in the state and move on, but it has just recently gained a permit to start operations in California.

Such significant iterations to the self-driving vehicle regulations were proposed by the California DMV on Friday. The state is warming up to the idea of autonomous driving and wants to embrace the technology, instead of pushing it away. It aims to remain the hotbed of self-driving public trials, while currently seeing action from Google’s Waymo, Uber, Baidu, Nvidia, and others.