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Totally driverless cars could be on California roads by June 2018

12 October 2017

The state's Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday released revisions to regulations proposed in March to allow such autonomous auto testing on public roads, which could take effect by next June, California DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet said on a conference call with reporters. California's Department of Motor Vehicles is looking at rules that would eliminate the requirement for a backup driver at the wheel of robot cars.

The new regulations, developed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, are based on feedback from technology companies and consumer and safety advocates. Now 42 manufacturers have permits here for 285 test vehicles and 996 backup drivers.

It's been announced that, starting next year, California will allow autonomous vehicles to drive on its roads without the need for a human to be sitting behind the wheel.

The public has until October 25 to comment on the revisions by emailing LADRegulations@dmv.ca.gov.

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"We are excited to take the next step in furthering the development of this potentially life-saving technology in California", said state Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly.

"The new California DMV proposal wrongly relies on the federal government, when there are absolutely no Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards applying specifically to autonomous vehicle technology", said Consumer Watchdog privacy project director John Simpson.

General Motors chief executive Mary Barra told Reuters on Tuesday that the federal legislation "allows us to get this technology on the road", but declined to say when the automaker might seek approval for exemptions. The rule-making process could result in enactment by mid next year, Soublet said. Right now, these companies are testing cars that can at best be considered Level 3 autonomous, meaning they still require some human intervention.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only requires self-driving vehicles to meet federal safety requirements in the design and performance of vehicles.

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MI and Nevada also allow autonomous vehicles on the road for testing, but each state requires test drivers to be inside vehicles.

The bill still has to secure a vote in the Senate, though it appears on track to pass. The hope is to set new guidelines for public road operation, approved by the DMV by early next year.

DMV officials said Wednesday that the federal government will continue to set safety standards for automobiles, while the state's role is to make sure vehicles traveling on state highways conform to federal standards.

Specific changes include, specifying local notifications on planned driverless testing, developing a template for how to report when a driver has disengaged autonomous modes, and identifying concerns that "would trigger an amended driverless testing or deployment applications to the DMV".

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To be sure, this isn't a clear path for fully autonomous vehicles to overrun the streets of California.

Totally driverless cars could be on California roads by June 2018