CA Department of Motor Vehicles paves path for autonomous automobiles

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On Friday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles proposed new regulations for testing and deploying autonomous vehicles that would allow the vehicles to drive on the road without human presence.

The current regulations, in place since 2014, require a driver to be at the wheel during testing. The DMV said in its Initial Statement of Reasons that this change was made because of the advancement of autonomous automotive technology over the past few years, which allows car manufacturers to develop self-driving systems that do not require a driver to be in the vehicle.

According to DMV spokesperson Artemio Armenta, car manufacturers must meet several certifications, have a law enforcement interaction plan and conduct testing to satisfy the permit process for testing.

“We have received numerous comments from companies, consumer advocates, local government and stakeholders to promote innovation and address public safety,” Armenta said. “This is a rule-making process, so the next step is making sure we get this completely right.”

Draft regulations that pertained to this level of autonomous vehicle testing were released in September 2016. The proposed regulations were then released March 10 and now are currently being held in a 45-day comment period, during which members of the public can send their written comments on this matter to the DMV, according to Armenta. This window will close April 24, and a public hearing on the regulations will be held in Sacramento on April 25.

The DMV hopes to release the final regulations and begin driverless vehicle testing on state roads by the end of 2017. Twenty-three car manufacturers are already testing autonomous cars with drivers present in the car. The manufacturers must take further steps in order to deploy their self-driving cars onto the streets without drivers, according to Armenta.

Several Silicon Valley technology companies have ventured into the autonomous automotive industry, including Google’s parent company Alphabet and electric car manufacturer Tesla. Alphabet’s self-driving project is called Waymo, and Tesla’s self-driving technology has been dubbed Autopilot. Additionally, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft are exploring the usage of autonomous vehicles to pick up their customers.

“Tesla appreciates the CA DMV’s continued effort to refine the regulations since last year’s draft, and we look forward to further collaboration on the guidance as it nears completion,” said electric car company Tesla in an email.

Contact Justin Sidhu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @dc_justinsidhu.