It’s a moment that will have technophiles and the Silicon Valley lobbyists celebrating as a genuine landmark and fill others with dread as to the potential repercussions. Driverless cars were yesterday given the green light by the Sunshine State’s lawmakers to take to California’s roads. The Department of Motor Vehicles was given approval by a new broad brush set of rules that allow car manufacturers and technology firms to test drive autonomous vehicles without a human driver at the wheel.
While tests have been being carried out for some time now, driverless cars have always been obliged to carry a human driver able to take control in the case of an emergency. Phoenix, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan had already introduced similar rules, which had irked many Silicon Valley lobbyists due to forcing tests to be conducted further afield. Much of the driverless car industry is based in California.
As many as 50 companies, including Google owner Alphabet, Apple, Uber, Ford and Toyota have been testing driverless cars in California with the presence of a human ‘co-pilot’. They will now be able to start sending their vehicles out on solo missions. It is believed that if the tests go smoothly over the next few months, with demonstrating to the DMV that autonomous vehicles are not vulnerable to cyberattack key, civilian passengers could be allowed into the cars before the end of the year.
The vehicles to be test driven will not have to feature steering wheels, brake or accelerator pedals that can be operated by a human driver. The self-driving car lobby argues that removing human error from the equation will make the roads far safer than they are at present. Road safety campaigners on the other side of the debate fear that the new rules will mean California’s streets will become “just like playing a video game, except lives will be at state”.
For now, the vehicles involved in the California road tests will still have to remain under constant supervision. They will also have a remote operator able to take over the controls and communicate with passengers if required. However, residents of the state will have to get used to the strange sight of driverless cars pulling up alongside them at traffic lights.
The latest technology in the world of AI means driverless cars may well become the norm over the next two decades. It is hoped that the technology will not only hugely reduce accidents but also traffic congestion and offer convenience to the elderly and infirm.