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How Driverless Cars Could Change Sacramento

Makers of autonomous vehicles can begin applying for permits on Friday



February 28, 2018…

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) — Driverless cars will be tested in California for the first time without a person behind a steering wheel under new rules that state regulators approved Monday for the fast-developing technology.

The regulations are a major step toward getting autonomous vehicles to dealerships and onto the streets of California, where companies such as Tesla and Waymo are leading the way on the technology. Until now, driverless cars could only be tested on public roads in the state if a person could take the wheel in an emergency.

The vehicles will no longer need to have drivers inside during tests, but people will still be in charge. Under the regulations, driverless cars being tested on public roads must have a remote operator monitoring at all times -- ready to take over if needed. The remote operator must also be able to communicate with police as well as any passengers in the event of an accident.

But the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog slammed the new rules, claiming autonomous cars have not yet been proven safe enough to be deployed without a human backup driver.

"It will be just like playing a video game, except lives will be at stake," said John Simpson, the group's privacy and technology project director.

Manufacturers must provide the DMV with a law enforcement interaction plan as one of the requirements to get approved for a permit.

Car makers can submit applications starting March 2, and the first permits will be issued when the regulations go into effect April 2.

What plans Sacramento has for autonomous vehicles

Since it launched ATOS, Autonomous Transportation Open Standards Lab, the city has been promoting itself as a proving and testing ground for makers of autonomous vehicles.

According to Louis Stewart, Sacramento's chief innovation officer, at least five companies have been in the city testing their autonomous vehicles on private lots.

Now that they will soon be able to operate on public streets, Stewart sees an opportunity to further cement Sacramento's recently established reputation on driverless vehicles.

"We were actually waiting for the state regulations to see what was coming next," Stewart said. "Now that the DMV has kind of opened up the rule book a little bit, I think we’ll be more aggressive in our recruiting of companies to Sacramento."

Stewart believes autonomous vehicle technology is critical toward bettering communication between cities and decreasing the city's mobility challenges.

"As we move into this autonomous future, we’re talking about connected cities," he said. "We as citizens face more mobility challenges. If we can add the prospects of autonomy in order to help out -- whether it be augmenting bus systems or providing mobility options to under-represented youth and citizens around the city -- I think it’s phenomenal."

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