On February 26, 2018, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced new regulations allowing fully driverless cars to be tested on California roads as of April 2, 2018. The announcement culminates a multi-year process undertaken by DMV.
The new regulations mark a significant change. Although DMV has already issued permits to
50 manufacturers and technology companies allowing for autonomous vehicle (AV) testing on California roads under its existing regulations, the new regulations are among the first in the nation allowing for AV testing without a human driver present in the vehicle. They represent a critical next step in the deployment of fully driverless vehicles to the public. In fact, the new regulations anticipate deployment once testing has been successfully completed. They not only provide for permits to allow testing of AVs without a human driver (at §227.38), but also provide for permits to allow post-testing deployment of AVs (at §228.06).
Federal Policymaking: Slowed, Not Stopped
In contrast to policymaking in California and other leading states, the wheels are turning slowly on federal self-driving policy. The current administration rolled back much of the Obama administration’s efforts on AVs with its “A Vision for Safety 2.0.”  The current policy does not propose binding nationwide standards and, therefore, is unlikely to contribute to regulatory harmonization nationwide. Characterized by the administration as a “nonregulatory” approach, both the U.S. House and Senate are making progress toward a federal regulatory regime, with bills that include mandates for the U.S. Department of Transportation to make binding rules on AVs and assert federal pre-emption over AV design, construction, and performance.
In what amounts to rare bipartisan momentum: The House’s Safely Ensuring Lives Future Development and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act – passed committee 54 to 0 before being passed by the full chamber on a voice vote in September 2017. And the Senate’s American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act – cleared the committee of jurisdiction unanimously and is pending floor action.
 This multi-year process started with a draft proposal in December 2015 (see https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/dbcf0f21-4085-47a1-889f-3b8a64eaa1ff/AVRegulationsSummary.pdf?MOD=AJPERES) and concluded with today’s final approval by California’s Office of Administrative Law (see https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto).