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California to Soften Autonomous Car Regulations

No human driver needed

California released a proposal this week amending some of its strict regulations for autonomous vehicles. If all goes as planned, the state will allow self-driving vehicles to operate without a human driver behind the wheel starting next year.

The proposal eliminates some of the hoops automakers have to jump through to test self-driving cars on public roads, reports the Los Angeles Times. Testers no longer need to obtain permission from each locality their cars drive through, and instead only need to inform each location of their plans. And rather than creating an emergency plan with each group of law enforcement officials, companies would only need to file a communications plan going forward.

The state has also outlined a set of rules for companies that want to sell autonomous vehicles. Manufacturers can self-certify their autonomous vehicles, a change from a previous plan that called for third-party certification. Automakers won’t be required to have held a testing permit in the past to sell the vehicles.

California has allowed autonomous cars to test on its roads since 2014, but some have criticized the state for making strict rules that hamper technological progress. Florida and Michigan have fewer restrictions, while Arizona doesn’t have any laws at all regulating autonomous cars. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey once took a dig at California when the state revoked registration of Uber’s self-driving cars for not having the proper permits, saying, “While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses.”

Automakers will still have to prove their autonomous cars meet federal safety standards and can follow California’s traffic regulations. And while a driver doesn’t have to be physically behind the wheel, a remote monitor will be able to observe the vehicle and take control if needed.

The public has been given an opportunity to submit comments on the policy, and a hearing will be held on April 25. California regulators expect the policy to be approved by the end of the year.

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