Look Ma, No Hands! No Steering Wheel Needed Under New Calif. Car Rules

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In a shift, companies will no longer have to get permission from the jurisdiction where they plan to test the cars but instead simply notify them in writing.

The proposed regulations were published Friday and the public now has until April 24 to comment on them. The new rules could take effect in 2018.

They're in response to frustrations that California was moving too slowly in the race to develop these pilot-less cars, potentially losing ground to other, friendlier, states. Currently both Florida and Michigan allow autonomous vehicles to be tested with few restrictions and  Arizona has almost no rules at all governing them. Twenty-one manufacturers are testing autonomous vehicles in California.

“These rules protect public safety, promote innovation and lay out the path for future testing and deployment of driverless technology. This rulemaking is the next step in working with stakeholders to get this right,”  California Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly said in a statement.

Consumer groups say proposed rules are too lax.

They “kick many of the safety enforcement issues to the federal government, requiring that any robot car deployed must certify that it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards," said John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group.

There are no federal safety standards that explicitly apply to autonomous vehicles, he said.

Because of this, the safety check list is meaningless. "It only asks that manufacturers voluntarily say, ‘Yeah, we thought about this stuff,'” he said

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