Self-driving cars 'must have driver', regulators insist

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Media captionGoogle shows off its driverless pod car

Regulators in California have published draft proposals designed to pave the way for the public to start using self-driving cars on the roads.

However, the cautious recommendations from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will, initially at least, insist on a fully licensed driver being behind the wheel, ready to take over in an emergency or if the technology fails.

California has been the testing ground for most of the development, and so regulations in the state are considered to be precedent-setting.

Prospective users of self-driving cars will need to undergo special training, and manufacturers would be required to monitor the cars' use.

Answering a common query, regulators said any traffic violations or accidents would remain the responsibility of the human driver.

'Potential risks'

Many firms are investing heavily in researching and creating self-driving vehicles, such as Ford, Uber and Tesla.

Google, which leads the research field, has made a self-driving car without any controls such as steering wheels or pedals.

Image caption The Lexus cars are able to go on public streets as they have traditional controls that can be used in an emergency

But the DMV's proposals would mean such vehicles would not, for the foreseeable future at least, be made available for consumers.

A statement from the DMV read: "Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, DMV believes that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public."

Instead, any car offering self-driving capability must also be fitted with traditional controls - such as the adapted Lexus Google has been testing on roads already.


This slightly dampens hopes that self-driving technology would enable those who are currently unable to drive - such as people with disabilities - to get on the roads.

However, the DMV said it would reassess the safety of fully-autonomous vehicles in the future.

A public consultation on the draft will take place in the new year.

The draft also adds requirements for manufacturers to ensure that vehicles are protected from cyber attacks.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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