California Governor OKs Autonomous Car Tests on Public Roads

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A bill signed on Thursday will allow driverless cars that don’t have steering wheels, brake pedals, or accelerators to be tested in part of California.

California previously required self-driving cars to have this equipment so a human driver could take over if needed. The bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown nixes that rule and will let the Contra Costa Transportation Authority conduct a pilot program meant to test the viability of truly autonomous vehicles.

There are some restrictions: These vehicles must be tested only in designated areas; cannot travel faster than 35 miles per hour; and must be insured for $5 million before they are able to drive on public roads. Manufacturers will also have to collect information that will allow the government to evaluate the safety of these vehicles and explain to any riders how their personal data might be used.

This news follows President Barack Obama’s call for the public to embrace self-driving vehicles after the Department of Transportation released new guidelines for manufacturers working on this technology.

The federal guidelines aren’t binding; states are free to regulate self-driving vehicles as they deem fit. The guidelines also focused on vehicles that can cede control to human drivers — less advanced automation tools like Tesla’s Autopilot and more sophisticated systems like the truly autonomous cars California will begin testing as a result of this bill’s passage were barely mentioned at all.

This system makes it hard to regulate autonomous vehicles. And, despite concerns about the safety of self-driving cars on public roads, they continue to become more prevalent.

California’s bill addresses those concerns by limiting these new vehicles to a single testing facility. This should allow manufacturers to learn more about how these vehicles function without endangering any members of the public.

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