The Californian government is now legally allowing the testing of autonomous cars on the state’s roads without safety drivers behind the wheel.
Following the granting of a permit, active autonomous car technology companies, such as Uber, Lyft and Waymo, as well as car brands such as Ford, can now gather data from public tests with true driverless vehicles.
However, as local paper The Mercury News reported, no company has applied for a permit at this stage. It is thought to be because the new rule comes into place just weeks after the world’s first fatal road accident involving an autonomous car took place.
An Uber Technologies-operated Volvo XC90 tragically hit and killed a woman when she stepped onto a section of road in Arizona that wasn’t a pedestrian crossing two weeks ago. Uber told The Mercury News that it is currently “head down” focusing on the investigation; it has suspended all driverless technology tests for now.
It is thought that other companies are also now more hesitant to begin true driverless car tests as a result.
Prior to the incident, California Department for Motor Vehicles director Jean Shiomoto said that allowing autonomous cars to test without a safety driver was “a major step forward for autonomous technology in California”.
The west coast of America state, which is home to some of the world’s most advanced technology companies in its Silicon Valley area, is at the very sharp end of development for driverless cars, first announced its plans to allow fully driverless cars on its roads back in 2016.
The UK Government has announced several programmes to bring Britain into the leading foray for autonomous car development, with £40m for research and development into electric and autonomous cars announced in the 2017 Autumn Budget. But there are currently no plans for British tests to involve cars without safety drivers behind the wheel, highlighting California’s freer testing regulation.