California, the largest US car market, plans to allow testing on public roads of self-driving vehicles without human backup drivers by the end of the year, state officials said on Friday.
The state's Department of Motor Vehicles is seeking public comment on proposed regulations for driverless testing and public use of autonomous vehicles that will no longer be required to have conventional manual controls such as steering wheels and pedals.
Current regulations require such vehicles to have those controls, as well as a backup driver.
The proposed change provides a path to the eventual sale and deployment of self-driving vehicles in California, state transportation secretary Brian Kelly said in a statement.
The state has licensed 27 companies to test driverless vehicles on public roads, including vehicle manufacturers from BMW to Tesla; suppliers such as Delphi Automotive and Nvidia; technology companies such as Alphabet's Waymo and China's Baidu; and a long list of self-driving startups such as Zoox, Drive.ai, AutoX and PlusAI. Also licensed are China-funded electric vehicle startups NextEV and Faraday Future.
Earlier this week, California granted a testing permit to ride services firm Uber after a legal standoff last December.
The proposed regulations enable manufacturers to certify that their driverless test vehicles can operate without conventional controls. The cars must meet federal safety standards or have an exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DMV Deputy Director Brian Soublet said in a media briefing on Friday.
The state will "rely heavily" on the federal guidelines for self-driving vehicles released last fall by the agency, Soublet said.
Driverless vehicles must also have a remote operator who is capable of monitoring the vehicle's operation and communicating with any passengers.
A number of automakers have said they plan to begin deploying self-driving vehicles, some of them in commercial fleets, by 2020-2021.
California initiated a 45-day public comment period, starting Friday, on the proposed rules changes, to be followed by a public hearing on April 25.