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California moves one step closer to bringing self-driving cars to the public

Google’s new self-driving prototype car is presented during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., May 13, 2015.

Tony Avelar, AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California regulators are asking members of the public what they think about proposed regulations that could eventually permit self-driving cars that lack a steering wheel or pedals on public roads.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is hosting the hearing Wednesday in the state Capitol. Among those planning to testify are both representatives of companies developing these cars of the future and skeptics who worry regulators are being pushed to embrace a technology that is not ready for the masses.

For now, self-driving cars are still in the prototype phase, but they are being tested on California roads and highways. Their most bullish supporters suggest the cars could be ready within a year or two.

The regulations being discussed will govern how everyday people can get and use the cars once companies believe they are ready to go public. They have taken several years to write, partly because the technology is so new and complex that regulators have struggled with how to ensure the cars are safe enough for widespread use.

Testing regulations already in place require that a person be in the driver’s seat, ready to take control should the technology fail.

In December, the DMV released an initial draft of regulations that required a licensed driver in self-driving vehicles that the public eventually will get. The industry reacted with great disappointment, as the ultimate vision of many companies is a car that has no wheel or pedals.