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California Now Allows Driverless Cars Without A Human Behind The Wheel

By Cyrus Farivar, ARS TECHNICA

February 27, 2018…

Companies must have "remote control" and a "law enforcement interaction plan."

On Monday, the California Department of Motor Vehicles approved new rules that would allow self-driving cars to hit the road without a human behind the wheel, ready to take over at any time.

The new regulations, which take effect as of April 2, will pave the way for companies like Waymo, Uber, GM, and others to continue autonomous vehicle (AV) testing on the roads of the Golden State and likely will lead to the technology becoming mainstream.

In 2014, California was the first state to adopt rules for testing autonomous vehicles on public streets. But many now feel that those regulations were too prescriptive and were not flexible enough to adapt to a technology that is maturing rapidly. As a result, testing programs have flourished in other states, like Arizona.

"This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California," DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. "Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California."

AV makers must also provide a "law enforcement action plan," which includes instructions that explain how to contact the remote human operator and how to disengage the AV mode, among other requirements. The rules do not say what kind of data law enforcement will be able to access from AVs.

Consumer Watchdog, a group that has routinely opposed AV technology, slammed the new rules in a statement on Monday.

"A remote test operator will be allowed to monitor and attempt to control the robot car from afar," said John M. Simpson, the group's privacy project director. "It will be just like playing a video game, except lives will be at stake."

Cyrus Farivar Cyrus is a Senior Tech Policy Reporter at Ars Technica, and is also a radio producer and author. His latest book, Habeas Data, about the legal cases over the last 50 years that have had an outsized impact on surveillance and privacy law in America, is due out in May 2018 from Melville House. He is based in Oakland, California.

Email // Twitter @cfarivar

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