California legalizes autonomous cars for testing on public roads

Following the Department of Transportation’s timid self-driving regulations, California governor Jerry Brown has greenlit a bill that provides driverless cars with a zone to test without the need for a steering wheel, brake or accelerate pedal, or human test driver.

The new rules are filled with restrictions to avoid Google and Tesla pushing fully autonomous cars throughout California. The cars can only drive in designated areas, must have a top speed of 35mph, and must be insured for $5 million to drive on public roads.

See Also: Californians and New Yorkers most enthusiastic about autonomous cars

That puts testing out of the reach of some self-driving startups, who may not want to fork $5 million on each self-driving car on the roads. Google, Uber, Tesla, and a few others are bound to back the new law, and start testing cars on the roads in the next few months.

Google already has hundreds of self-driving cars in California, but the current public road models have human drivers to take control if the system fails. Google uses two Toyota Lexus models on the road, and plans to add 100 Fiat minivans to its fleet in the near future.

California following US DoT rules

The Department of Transportation revealed its regulations earlier this month, which dealt mostly with semi-autonomous cars on the road. Tesla’s AutoPilot has been in the news over the past few months, most of the regulations covered how those types of systems should be controlled on public roads.

However, not much information was provided on fully autonomous cars, other than to say they are still banned on public roads. That’s unsurprising, given the public’s distrust of self-driving cars, but it could become a problem as the systems become so sophisticated they overlap human driving capabilities.

That’s expected in the next five years, if you speak to Elon Musk or a Google executive working on the self-driving project. Even smaller firms, like nuTonomy, expect to launch a self-driving fleet by 2018 in Singapore.

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