California Approves Fully Driverless Cars - Embracing Innovation or Asking for Trouble?

​How do you feel about modern technology? Do you rush out to buy the latest smartphone, curved TV, VR headset, or whatever else the innovators of the world have launched most recently, or do you prefer to stick with what you know? Most of these devices, although incredibly useful, don’t have any real risk involved, other than maybe meaning you’ve wasted a bit of money. The new rules written by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles involve embracing technology on a much riskier scale, as they make it legal to test driverless cars without a human back-up driver, for the first time.

Fully Autonomous Cars to Hit California Street

Until now, autonomous cars were only allowed on the roads if they had a human driver, with their own steering wheel and controls, in case of computer failure. Now, in an effort to keep California ahead of the curve, the DMV have approved the changes, which will take effect from April 2. There are some conditions to being allowed to test in this way – local law enforcement must be given details of the testing in advance, including the route the autonomous car will take, there must be a remote operator ready to take over should anything untoward appear to happen, and this operator must be able to communicate with both the police and any passengers, should an accident occur. Local police must also grant their permission for the testing to take place.

With fifty companies holding permits to test driverless cars on California roads, some industry experts have expressed concerns about the safety of these new regulations, with Consumer Watchdog stating that it’s akin to playing video games, but risking actual human lives, rather than avatars.

The regulations, which are intended to form the basis for a framework under which regular drivers can eventually buy their own autonomous cars, apply only to cars at this time, not to driver less trucks or other vehicles. 

Of the car manufacturers who hold the permits to test and develop driverless cars in Los Angeles and other areas of California, Tesla’s most recent update states that the hardware is ready and software is undergoing testing, Waymo hasn’t commented on likely timescales, and the main manufacturers, included BMW, Mercedes and Ford, have said their driverless cars are still at least two years from becoming reality.

Regardless of how long it will take for these cars to become a reality, the new rules certainly give some food for thought on the matter of whether autonomous vehicles will reduce, or increase, the number of car accidents on Los Angeles streets. How do you feel about it?

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