California is anything but the wild West when it comes to testing self-driving cars. The state requires automakers and technology companies to adhere to strict regulations. Most notably, there must be a human driver behind the wheel of any self-driving car. Next year, California will change that.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles recently released its revised regulations to allow self-driving cars to operate without a human behind the wheel. The current regulations ensure a human driver could take control of the car if the autonomous technology were to fail to act appropriately in any given situation. Not only will the state allow companies to test their self-driving vehicles without a human being, but it will give the green light to cars without steering wheels, pedals, and mirrors—all things human drivers need but a self-driving car does not.
However, the relaxed rules still come with a handful of asterisks and other revisions. Foremost, a company must notify local governments when self-driving car tests will take place in their city or town. Additionally, the DMV released a new template for companies to report the number of times the human driver—if present—had to take control of the car because of various road conditions. Lastly, automakers and other companies must report back to the state if the entity makes a major technological upgrade.
Various automakers and technology companies flock to California for self-driving car tests, but no one has come close to full autonomy just yet. We're just now seeing the start of Level 3 self-driving car systems from Audi in the 2019 A8, and it's unsure if that system will be even be available due to nation wide regulations when it goes on sale late next summer. Cadillac's Super Cruise-enabled CT6 sedan is a Level 2 car, as are the newest Mercedes-Benz S-Class and E-Class. These cars all require drivers.
Come next year, California drivers may glance over and see no human inside a vehicle at all.