California regulators on Wednesday unveiled revised rules that would allow self-driving cars to travel the state's highways without human drivers for the first time as early as next year, a move that won the support of automakers.
The revised regulations follow a 45-day public comment period during which manufacturers, consumer advocates, local governments, insurance companies and other stakeholders noted areas of the regulations they found troublesome.
Industry leader Waymo, as the former Google self-driving car program is known, is not commenting on its rollout schedule. They do include some limits, such as a new provisions requiring manufacturers to notify local governments when they plan on testing autonomous vehicles, a new template for manufacturers to report the number of times the vehicle forced the human driver to take control because it couldn't safely navigate the conditions on the road, and a requirement that operators report to the state when technological upgrades are made, such as a change in the level of automation.
The new rules represent a major step forward, as 42 companies battle to realise the dream of fully autonomous cars, in the state.
Current regulations and the proposed changes can be viewed on the DMV website. In a statement, he wrote, "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". Compliance is voluntary, and California's deferring to the federal rules will weaken safety protections for people using roads. Developers will still be required to obtain special permits from the DMV before they conduct any trials on public roads - about 40 organizations hold such permits - and their software must obey California's traffic laws.
The Associated Press reports that this is the same approach to normal cars meant to have humans behind and in control of the steering wheel. Similarly the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also voted in support of a bill to allow more self-driving vehicles on roadways.
The state is not changing its prohibition on the testing of autonomous trucks, arguing that a separate rule-making process will be needed to allow for the testing of self-driving vehicles over 10,000 pounds.
The state also requires manufacturers to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and share any safety assessments submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Consumer Watchdog criticized the revisions, saying California should stick to its earlier, stricter state requirements. The company still is testing the software and won't make it available to owners without regulatory approval.