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California Loosens Up Autonomous Car Rules To Allow Vehicles Without A Driver On The Road

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Back off, Michigan—California wants to regain some glory as a self-driving haven. The state’s department of motor vehicles announced today new regulations that would allow self-driving cars without a driver to operate on roadways.


The proposed regulations, which could go into effect this fall, loosen up California’s stance toward self-driving cars, allowing manufacturers to self-certify their vehicles. The DMV shied away from some initial proposals that were considered, like a requirement to force manufacturers to make their autonomous technology available for independent review.

Part of the reason for the changes, according to the DMV, is that technology has rapidly improved since 2014, when the initial regulations were passed.


“Since the adoption of the current testing regulations, the capabilities of autonomous technology has proceeded to the point where manufacturers have developed systems that are capable of operating without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle,” the DMV says in a statement of reasoning about the proposed changes.

The self-certification for the autonomous tech struck some observers as a weird development.

“I question the wisdom of self-certification, especially with players that are not as sophisticated. I think it would be wiser to have third parties audit the technology,” Ryan Calo, a University of Washington professor who teaches a class on robot law, told IEEE Spectrum.

Rules for testing have been loosened, as well. Under the proposed regs, a passenger could summon a fully-autonomous vehicle as long as they don’t pay (Hi Uber).


But California hasn’t dropped oversight entirely by any means. One proposed measure regulates advertising, and says that manufacturers can’t advertise a car as autonomous in a way that a “reasonably prudent person” would be led to “believe a vehicle is autonomous.”

The cost of a manufacturer testing permit would also jump from $150 to $3,600. Uber butted heads with the DMV last year after it refused to submit for a permit, but the ride-hailing reversed course this week.


The move puts California on a pedestal with Michigan, which passed a law in December that oversees the deployment of fully-autonomous cars. The DMV will accept public comment for the next several weeks, and a hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for April 25.