Monday was the first day for truly driverless cars to legally operate on California streets—and yet not a single autonomous vehicle hit the roads without the usual human safety drivers behind the wheel.
A bit of background: In February the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued new guidelines that would allow companies to test human-free autonomous cars on public roads. However, a few days before the guidelines went into effect, only one of the 50 driverless car companies working in the state had applied for a permit.
Gizmodo reports that California DMV has yet to publicly identify which company applied for the permit.
In an emailed statement, DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez tells Curbed SF:
The DMV has received one permit for driverless testing. The department has 10 days starting April 2, to let the applicant know if the application is complete. If it is deemed complete the application will be thoroughly reviewed.
There is not a timeline on when the DMV approves a permit after receiving a complete application. The DMV is not disclosing the name until the application is deemed acceptable. […] The department will not approve any permits until it is clear that the applicant has met all of the safe operation requirements set forth in law and in the regulations.
The death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in March—killed when hit by a self-driving Uber in Tempe, Arizona—has dominated most of the scrutiny paid to self-driving car technology in recent weeks.
With the exception of Uber, which has all but abandoned its autonomous car program for now, it’s not clear whether companies’ shyness about driverless technology is a response to the Tempe death or an indicator that the technology is not quite ready for that level of public testing yet.
Nevertheless, barring sudden state intervention that reverts the laws back to their previous 2017 status quo, driver-free robot vehicles are coming to California streets sooner rather than later. The likes of Google and General Motors haven’t poured billions of dollars into development just to sit around with keys in hand forever.