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California to allow self-driving cars as early as 2018

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 23: Googles Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. Google has logged over 300,000 miles testing its self driving cars around the country. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The California Department of Motor Vehicles announced on Friday proposed regulations that would allow driver-optional vehicles to travel on public roadways for road-testing as early as 2017. If approved, the regulations would also allow consumers to purchase and use driverless vehicles as early as 2018, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Bernard Soriano, deputy director of the California DMV, called the decision “a clear path for the future deployment of autonomous vehicles.”

The regulations wouldn’t only provide consumers with access to driverless cars, they would also allow riders in driverless vehicles to sit anywhere in the car, without anyone behind a steering wheel, and they could open the door for regulators to allow manufacturers to build and consumers to own vehicles that have no steering wheel at all.

Before the regulations can be implemented, they must receive approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has previously encouraged the development of driverless technology.

California is the nation’s most important market for driverless cars. Not only is it America’s most populous state, it is also home to Silicon Valley and the country’s leaders in driverless technology, such as Alphabet, Inc., owner of Google. According to the Financial Times, Alphabet has a “long-held ambition of launching a driverless taxi service around its Silicon Valley headquarters.”

The new regulations are a reversal in course from previous decisions made by the California DMV. In 2015, it issued draft rules governing self-driving cars that prevented the use of driverless cars on public roadways without a person sitting behind a vehicle’s steering wheel. The agency cited “safety concerns” as its primary consideration in creating the draft rule.

The new regulations are open for public comment, but DMV officials “expect approval by the end of the year,” according to a report by The Los Angeles Times.

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