California green-lights self-driving cars without humans behind the wheel

Autonomous car developers say that their vehicles are safest when onboard computers do all the driving. There’s data to support that claim: consider that most of the fender-benders in which Google/Waymo’s cars have been involved have occurred with humans at the wheel.

Despite mounting evidence, though, most state governments still require a homo sapien in the driver’s seat of every autonomous vehicle, just in case something goes wrong. As a result, cars without steering wheels, accelerators, or brakes have been limited to test tracks and private roads.

But not anymore–at least not in California. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has updated its regulations around self-driving cars, and starting this April, those vehicles will be permitted to hit the highways without human “drivers”. (That said, the new rules still require that a human can control the car from afar). Recode reports:

Under these regulations, driverless cars being tested on public roads must have a remote operator monitoring the car, ready to take over as needed. That remote operator — who will be overseeing the car from a location outside of the car — must also be able to communicate with law enforcement as well as the passengers in the event of an accident.

When the companies are ready to deploy the cars commercially, the remote operator is no longer required to take over the car, just facilitate communication while it monitors the status of the vehicle.

It’s a requirement that many industry experts agree could help accelerate the proliferation of self-driving cars and ensure cars are able to operate in all situations — especially the unsolved edge cases. It also suggests the addition of jobs in a new business designed to replace drivers.

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