California's new rules turn self-driving cars into remotely operated, road-going drones

March 1, 2018

The nation's most populous state is taking drivers out of cars, but not out of the equation entirely. California regulators approved Monday rules that will remove the requirement for a human to be in the driver's seat for backup. Instead, companies like Google's Waymo self-driving cars division will have to be able to operate vehicles remotely.

Essentially, California has turned self-driving cars into drones like those the military uses. The new rules take effect April 2.

MORE: The different levels of self-driving cars, explained

“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” said Jean Shiomoto, director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”

California's new rules differ from neighboring Arizona, which has stolen much of the spotlight when it comes to driverless cars. In suburban Phoenix, Waymo has been operating a fleet of self-driving autonomous ride-share vehicles that don't have human backup and recently received permission to test its driverless Chrysler minivans across Arizona. Unlike California, Arizona has not created regulations specifically targeting self-driving vehicles.

So far, California has granted 50 licenses to test self-driving cars, a figure expected to grow before remotely operated self-driving cars hit the road soon.

-- by Ruben Porras.

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