California regulators have given the green light to truly driverless cars.
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles said Monday that it was eliminating a requirement for autonomous vehicles to have a person in the driver’s seat to take over in the event of an emergency. The new rule goes into effect on April 2.
California has given 50 companies a license to test self-driving vehicles in the state. The new rules also require companies to be able to operate the vehicle remotely — a bit like a flying military drone — and communicate with law enforcement and other drivers when something goes wrong.
The changes signal a step toward the wider deployment of autonomous vehicles. One of the main economic benefits praised by proponents of driverless vehicles is that they will not be limited by human boundaries and can do things like operate 24 hours in a row without a drop-off in alertness or attentiveness. Taking the human out of the front seat is an important psychological and logistical step before truly driverless cars can hit the road.
“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” said Jean Shiomoto, director of California’s D.M.V. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”
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