For some time, people have wondered when completely driverless cars — the kind devoid of human operators — would appear on California roads.
The state’s residents now have a likely answer, one that suggests they could arrive as early as June 2018, and possibly even sooner, officials said.
That’s when driverless test vehicles may be allowed to operate on roads and pick up human passengers (as long as they don’t have to pay), according to a revised version of proposed regulations released Wednesday by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Before they can be approved, the regulations will be subject to a public comment period that ends Oct. 25 and then submitted to the state government for enforcement.
Assuming that happens, manufacturers testing hundreds of driverless prototypes will begin unleashing those vehicles on California roads, according to the DMV.
“We are excited to take the next step in furthering the development of this potentially lifesaving technology in California,” state Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly said in a news release.
Before deploying a driverless vehicle, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicles meet federal safety standards and are designed to comply with state traffic laws, according to the DMV.
Regulations for testing autonomous vehicles with a driver in the vehicle have been in place since 2014, according to the DMV, which noted that “42 companies hold permits to test autonomous technology on California roads.”
There are 285 autonomous vehicles licensed with the DMV and 996 drivers licensed to test those vehicles, DMV officials said. Assuming the state’s revised rules are approved, those drivers would no longer need to ride inside autonomous test vehicles.
“The department looks forward to seeing those companies and additional companies advance the technology under these new regulations,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said. “Today’s action continues the department’s efforts to complete these regulations by the end of the year.”
California is not alone in moving to open its roads to driverless vehicles. State’s across the country are rushing to enact laws that will encourage tech and auto investment and keep them competitive with California — a hub for autonomous vehicle testing.
But California won’t be the first state to allow completely driverless cars on its roads. Florida and Nevada also allow autonomous testing without a human present.
Michigan allows autonomous vehicles on the road for testing, but requires test drivers to be inside the vehicle.