With few exceptions, the otherwise permissive states for self-driving car testing have prohibited the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads without a human supervisor in the front seat. It's not hard to understand why.
Author: Sam Chase, The Connected Car
A human operator does not necessarily intervene with the testing of driverless technology, as they are usually directed to only assume control of the vehicle in the case of an emergency. Since these human monitors don't hinder the testing of an AV, there is little downside to their presence. The upside, of course, is that they could help avoid a potentially catastrophic accident, and a public relations disaster for all involved.
Still, autonomous vehicle developers are eager to test their products without the proverbial safety net of a human monitor.
Many companies have been successfully testing driverless cars on roads for years now. They want to prove to consumers, investors and themselves that their products are ready to function in the way that they are meant to. And any state that will offer them the opportunity to do so will likely benefit from a much-wanted influx of AV test operations, and all the economic benefits that go along with them.
California recently took steps to allow driverless cars to be truly driverless. The state's Department of Motor Vehicles announced that it will soon permit the operation of registered self-driving cars to operate without a human driver in the automobile. The proclamation comes as part of a series of modifications to state AV regulations that the DMV announced on 11th October.
"We are excited to take the next step in furthering the development of this potentially life-saving technology in California," Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly noted in a statement.
The emphasis on the prospective safety benefits of autonomous vehicles in Kelly's speech mirrors that of Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, who acknowledged the risks of testing driverless cars without humans in them when his state became the first to permit such activity in December of last year.
"It's a risk worth taking because the future of the technologies we know are going to help reduce those crashes and reduce those fatalities," Steudle said at the time.
With this modification to its policy, California becomes the fifth state to allow AV testing without a human operator in the car, joining Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Tennessee.
As AV industry consultant Grayson Brulte told Forbes, it's a move that is necessary for California to remain a top-tier destination for driverless testing.
"California is clearly on defense trying to defend the state's position as a leader in autonomous vehicle testing," Brulte said. "It is a significant step toward the future of mobility."