On April 2, just one short month from now, the dreams of Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, as well as the dreams of the other players in the self-driving car game, will come closer to fruition when the California DMV begins to issue permits for fully autonomous vehicles.
What this means is (1) automakers can soon test their vehicles on public roads remotely, with no driver or passenger in the car at all and (2) can move toward activating full auto mode in cars currently owned and operated by consumers, such as Tesla’s Model S, with its Autopilot functionality 100 percent engaged.
Now it’s “Look, Ma, no hands!” to get from Point A to Point B.
Safety remains the state’s concern
As we’ve pointed out in older blog posts (perhaps ad nauseum), the safety of autonomous vehicles has been a big question ever since tech titans like Musk and tech giants like Google began to legitimize the technology and drive us closer to this alternative reality.
We’ve seen accidents with autonomous cars already – a Tesla Model S’s failure to “see” a semi-truck is one prominent example, as well as a Tesla that recently crashed into a parked fire truck on the 405.
This prompted us to say that Tesla’s Autopilot is the new distracted driving – but that was before the California DMV gave its blessing to use Autopilot as it is ultimately supposed to be used, which complicates the matter.
What does it take to get a permit?
The other side of the safety coin is the potentially enormous benefit of a network of cars that don’t get drunk, don’t text, and don’t fall asleep behind the wheel.
In that regard, it’s as though self-driving cars can’t come fast enough, in terms of their benefit to society. Apparently, state regulators feel the same way. The DMV’s Feb. 26 press release lays out the permit requirements, which cover requirements for testing on public roads and requirements for deploying full autopilot mode for current owners of self-driving cars.