California to allow human-less self-driving car testing

November 17, 2017

Following a year of self-driving cars legally testing on public roads, California is ready to take things a step further by relaxing the rules surrounding testing. Soon, companies will be able to test their autonomous car prototypes on public roads without a driver, even as backup.

That’s good news for companies like Waymo, which until now has resorted to using its own fake city for such testing, and for others like GM and Uber, which have been testing self-driving cars on public roads, but always with a driver sitting behind the steering wheel, ready to take over should something go wrong.

The move follows a recent change in direction on the part of the NHTSA, which has laid out a decidedly more laissez faire approach to self-driving vehicle regulations. Essentially, the new guidelines place the onus of ensuring safety on manufacturers, while simultaneously discouraging states from introducing their own, more restrictive self-driving safety regulations.

Under the new California regulations, companies do need permission from the state in order to conduct their tests, but must report all testing to the DMV. The government’s new aim is not to control the testing, so much as to keep track of it, and be aware of any patterns of failure.

As it stands, self-driving cars—without human drivers—will be on public roads by next summer.

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