Self-driving cars get green light in California – Here’s the deal

By Alexandra Burlacu | May 23, 2014 06:58 AM EDT

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Self-driving cars got a green light in California and could be hitting the streets as early as next year, new regulations suggest.

Up until now, Google may have had autonomous vehicles driving down the street, but it wasn't exactly legal. More specifically, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had left this whole issue in somewhat of a gray area, as it had not specifically addressed it with proper legislation.  

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That's all about to change, however, and new regulations will take effect on Sept. 16, 2014, officially stating the requirements for those who want to test self-driving cars in California. Moreover, the DMV is also working on rules that will address the use of autonomous vehicles by the general public. These rules are expected to be ready by Jan. 1, 2015, which means that people could get a license for self-driving cars as soon as next year.

For now, the rules referring to testing apply to manufacturers of self-driving cars. Google is not a manufacturer of such vehicles, but the rules refer to this term as inclusive of companies that modify existing vehicles to make them autonomous. In this context, Google is seen as a manufacturer, therefore the new California DMV rules apply to the company and its autonomous vehicles.

California, however, is not the first state to allow testing of self-driving cars. Nevada previously approved it on its roads, and even assigned special license plates for autonomous vehicles. Florida was the second state to allow the testing autonomous cars on its public roads. California's new regulations, meanwhile, allow even vehicles registered in other states to roam on its roads for testing.

In order to comply with the rules, manufacturers that want to test autonomous vehicles must first apply for a permit from the state, as well as provide the vehicle's license plate number, make, model, and vehicle identification code for each self-driving car to be tested.

Self-driving car operators, meanwhile, will have to pass a special driving course and be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time should something go awry. As expected, operators must have a good grasp of the technology. Moreover, those with more than one point on their licenses for a traffic violation will not be allowed to operate an autonomous vehicle.



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