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California approves public testing of autonomous cars without drivers

California's Department of Motor Vehicles on Feb. 26 approved regulations that would allow public testing and deployment of cars without drivers on the state's roads as early as April.

On May 19, 2014, the state adopted an autonomous vehicle testing program for car manufacturers, which made a driver's presence behind the wheel mandatory while testing an autonomous car. The latest rule update will allow public testing of cars without drivers for the first time in California, although human operators are still needed to monitor the cars remotely.

The DMV, which defines autonomous vehicles as those that are able to drive without active physical control, started issuing autonomous vehicle testing permits as of Jan. 11 to car manufacturers including Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG-owned Mercedes Benz, Tesla Inc.'s Tesla Motors, Bosch Ltd., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Ford Motor Co., among others. Companies from other industries, including Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Apple Inc. were also added to DMV's list.

Permits will be valid for two years from the last day of the month of issuance.

The department said it will start approving the public deployment of the vehicles 30 days after the announcement.