Driverless cars without humans at the wheel may be approved for California as soon as April

Companies testing robot-driven cars in California currently require a driver behind the wheel.

As soon as April, however, those vehicles may be allowed to become truly driverless.

That change is contingent on a decision by the California Office of Administrative Law, which is set on Monday Feb. 26 to approve, or reject, California DMV’s proposed autonomous vehicle testing regulations.

If approved, the regulations would allow truly driverless vehicles to be made available to consumers once they have completed testing, according to California DMV.

There is “no word if anyone will be ready” to apply for those deployment permits for public use yet, said Jessica Gonzalez, spokesperson for California DMV.

Those regulations have been under review since Jan. 11. If they are approved, the DMV must post a public notice and 30 days later could issue permits to any of the 50 companies that are testing such vehicles right now.

By April 2, then, autonomous vehicles could curve down San Francisco’s crooked Lombard Street without a driver behind the wheel.

The proposed regulations require companies to notify local authorities if they plan to test vehicles in a city, and a “communication link” must be maintained between the vehicle and a remote operators. The companies must also certify the vehicle is capable of operating without the presence of a driver and notify California Highway Patrol of a “law enforcement interaction plan” that will be available for first responders.

“Under driverless testing, a permit holder can’t charge a rider,” Gonzalez told the San Francisco Examiner by email Wednesday.

California DMV has issued 50 permits to test autonomous vehicles, with drivers, to companies including Uber, BMW, Ford, Subaru, Lyft, Apple inc., Toyota Research Institute and Waymo, among others.

This story has been corrected from its original version to indicate that the new regulations will cover deployment of vehicles available to the public.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez covers transportation for the San Francisco Examiner. He also writes the weekly political On Guard column. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter: @FitzTheReporter.

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