California has paved the way for testing driverless cars without a person behind a steering wheel. The tests are made possible as a result of new rules that state regulators have approved for autonomous driving.
The new regulations are a major step toward getting autonomous vehicles to dealerships and onto the streets in California where companies such as Tesla and Waymo are leading the way.
Until now, driverless cars could only be tested on public roads in California, if a person in the car could take the wheel in an emergency.
"You can't test what true, full autonomy looks like unless there's no driver at all," Rand Corp. senior scientist Nidhi Kalra said. "To be able to test it right in your backyard is a really big deal."
Remote operator required
But advocacy group Consumer Watchdog criticized the new rules, arguing that 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," the group's privacy and technology project director, John Simpson, said in a statement.
Fifty companies already have permits to test on public roads and highways in California, a prime proving ground given its size as the most populous state, its clout as the nation's largest car market and its longtime role as a trendsetter.
Under the new regulations, driverless cars being tested on public roads must have a remote operator monitoring at all times and ready to take over as needed. The operator must also be able to communicate with police and passengers in the event of an accident.
hg/nz (Reuters, dpa)