So far, companies that want to test fully autonomous vehicles have been required to do so only on private property. If they want to use public roads, the cars need to be equipped with human controls like a steering wheel and a brake pedal, and a human to operate them if needed. But a new law in California will change that.
, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Thursday that allows limited testing of self-driving vehicles without human backups on some of the state's roads. Companies will be able to use both the former Concord Naval Weapons Station and a San Ramon business park to develop their autonomous technology, including public thoroughfares within the approved areas. Vehicles are required to travel at less than 35 mph, and any accidents must be reported within 10 days.
California is the first state to allow vehicles without human controls on public roads. Google has been pushing for a while to have such vehicles allowed, while companies like Tesla have opted to stick with cars that allow human override. But as RW Baird analyst Colin Sebastian told the Mercury News, figuring out which method is better likely requires public testing:
There's a lot of debate around whether fully autonomous is the right step in the near term versus that more incremental approach. Having the ability to test more fully autonomous technology is going to help resolve that debate. It could be that during these tests they find that this technology needs a lot of work.
Currently, both Honda and Otto, a company owned by Uber, are using the California testing facilities, and others such as Apple and Google are also reportedly interested. Depending on how these initial test go, we may see other states begin opening up their roads to fully autonomous cars.