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California Allows Limited Testing Of Self-Driving Cars Without Human Backup Drivers, Steering Wheel

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Less than a month after signing what could be the most ambitious climate bill in the United States, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed another bill that could have a significant impact on the future of not just the state, but of the entire United States.

The climate bill that Brown signed in early September was designed to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of California over the next 15 years. The new bill that was approved by Brown, meanwhile, focuses on the burgeoning and controversial self-driving car industry.

The bill allows for the testing of self-driving cars even with no human backup driver inside the vehicle to take back control of the car if needed. In addition, self-driving cars with no manual controls, such as the accelerator and brake pedals and a steering wheel, are also allowed by the bill.

Brown signed the bill almost four years since the testing of self-driving cars on public roads were approved, with the tests requiring, among many other limitations, that human drivers will be riding within the vehicles, and that they would be able to gain control of the car from its self-driving system at any time to prevent possible accidents and crashes.

The new bill, while opening up more possibilities for self-driving cars, also comes with certain limitations. It only applies to the Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon that contains certain public roads and to a self-driving car testing facility at what used to be the Concord Naval Weapons Station, for a pilot project of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

At the business park, 12-seater shuttles of EasyMile will transport workers around, and the former Navy facility, now known as the GoMentum Station, is where Honda is testing its self-driving cars.

Otto, owned by Uber, has also recently inked an agreement to begin testing driverless trucks at the site, with Apple and Google expressing interest to test their driverless cars at the location.

In addition to the two specific locations where the bill will be applied, self-driving cars without a backup driver and manual controls can only go as fast as 35 miles per hour for safety purposes.

This new law passed in California comes as the debate on the direction of self-driving car technology development continues. While some companies favor an incremental approach that add features such as emergency braking and lane-keeping into vehicles, other companies prefer to release their vehicles once they are fully capable of functioning without the need for human oversight and intervention.

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