California to Ok Self-Driving Cars Without Human Controllers Onboard

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It’s official; California cars don’t need brake pedals or steering wheels to be street legal because self-driving robocars are about to hit the road.

The California DMV proposed dropping the human driver requirement for self-driving cars Friday and even gave autonomous car companies the option to remove steering wheels and brake pedals from their vehicles.

The move represents California’s attempt to keep autonomous car companies from fleeing the state, but it’s upsetting safety advocates who feel the self-driving technology hasn’t been developed fully, California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto told Wired.

    “This is the next step in eventually allowing driverless autonomous vehicles on California roadways.”

The move comes as Uber returned to its home state of California this week after a very public fight with the DMV when it refused to apply for a $150 permit arguing its autonomous cars didn’t meet the self-driving specification.

Don’t expect to take a ride in a humanless self-driving robocar anytime soon, however.

To prove the self-driving cars are ready to operate on city streets without human control, autonomous car companies will need to certify their vehicles have passed internal testing showing the vehicles are ready to operate on public roads.

The autonomous cars will also need federal approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before they can be deployed without human drivers. The proposed regulation also mandates the self-driving cars come with a communication link allowing humans to take remote control of the vehicles in case of an emergency.

California is home to 27 autonomous car companies testing the self-driving technology, but until now, every vehicle has been equipped with steering wheels and brakes that allow human drivers to take control, Eric Noble, president of The CarLab told Bloomberg.

    “They kind of had to do it because at some point manufacturers can’t move autonomous vehicles forward without getting controls out of cars.”

Some 3,000 people die on California roads every year so self-driving cars have the potential to save a lot of lives and eventually change the state’s economy, Brian Soublet, the DMV’s chief counsel and deputy director told the SFGate.

    “If you’re obeying the law, your car won’t run a stop light, turn left when it’s not supposed to, or, heaven forbid, run over a pedestrian in a crosswalk.”

Some safety advocates worry the technology powering the still experimental self-driving cars isn’t ready to operate without a human backup driver, as John Simpson, with the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog, told the SFGate.

    “The DMV’s current self-driving car test regulations set a standard for the nation…The new rules are too industry friendly and don’t adequately protect consumers.”

The new autonomous car proposal in California follows a similar rule change in Michigan passed in December that allows self-driving cars to operate without a human in the driver seat.

The next step in California’s proposed self-driving rule change is a mandatory 45-day comment period that ends April 24 followed by a DMV public hearing. The agency said the new rules should be in place by the start of 2018, which is when Californians can expect to see the robocars hit the road.

Eventually, the self-driving cars will form the basis of a new economy in which people will purchase an autonomous vehicle and let it roam city streets getting paid to give rides while they’re at work. The car will literally pay for itself.

Self-driving technology is also set to revolutionize the shipping industry when driverless cargo trucks hit the nation’s highways. It’s the first step in the AI revolution in which about half of all American jobs are expected to be replaced by robots in the next 20 years.

What do you think about California’s new self-driving car law that allows removal of the steering wheel and brake pedals?

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