Fully Driverless Cars may appear tested on public roads in California within a month. Until recent any such vehicle still required a backup human driver behind the wheel, but this week Dezeen reported the state’s Office of Administrative Law has approved the new regulations permitting fully autonomous testing. California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced the change on 26 February 2018, following the state's lawmakers approval of new regulations they developed for the last three years.

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A relevant public notice appeared on the DMV’s website on 2 March, indicating a 30-day countdown before the first testing permits can be issued on 2 April. Deliberately or not, they seemed to be careful to avoid the Fool's Day as a start date for the milestone change.

No steering wheel, no pedals, no mirrors

Cars featuring neither steering wheels nor acceleration and brake pedals, or even mirrors can hit the road within the next month. Yet before such truly driverless vehicles can go on trial within a public realm, car manufacturers must meet several requirements. Companies must inform local authorities in an intended area about any fully driverless testing, verify a due law enforcement process designed to communicate with vehicles and prepare a "law enforcement interaction plan" for police during autonomous testing. Companies within the state can apply for permits of three types, such as testing with a safety driver, fully driverless testing, and deployment of autonomous vehicles. The latter are now allowed to operate without a "natural person" on board, but they still require a "remote operator" able to override any move via a wireless connection, as well as communicate with passengers.

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50 companies already testing almost 300 autonomous vehicles licensed by DMV

Even before the latest changes were enacted, interest in driverless cars in the Pacific state was huge. Quoted by The Verge, DMV confirmed that to date they licensed nearly 300 autonomous vehicles tested by some 50 companies. Until recently these companies, which include tech giants such as Uber and Apple had to employ about a thousand safety drivers, as a human driver was required by law to be present in a vehicle during any test drive, ready to take over in case of emergency or malfunction. The new rules will also allow ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to start offering actual rides in fully autonomous cars, and removing expensive human drivers from the equation may help them slash the fare. Even though there are now no legal obstacles preventing this happening this year, no ride-hailing companies have yet detailed such plans. A spokesman for Waymo, an autonomous vehicle subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, confirmed that the company has an intention to roll in such a service in the future.