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Driverless Car Testing Getting Green Light On California Roads

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) --  California is opening the door for testing on the streets of truly driverless cars without a backup driver.  The California Department of Motor Vehicles is in charge of regulating the technology, but before wheeling it out, the agency heard from the biggest carmakers in Silicon Valley are all racing to be number one.

The state is paving the way for drivers to let go of the wheel, but before selling the self-driving cars - the industry has to sell the idea.

It's a concept consumers are still mixed about.  "if the car can do it for me... why not?," said Cynthia Flores of Sacramento, who says she'd  ride driverless.  "There needs to be some regulations," said Tyler Collins of Sacramento, who walks to work.

Until now, the Golden State has only given the green light for testing of autonomous cars with someone inside, ready to take the wheel. Now the state is rolling out testing on the street of cars with no wheel, pedal, or human.  In a first of its kind meeting of the self- driven- minds, the Department of Motor Vehicles heard from major players Tuesday. The agency is paving the way for testing of truly driverless cars to begin later this year. And carmakers are racing to be number one.


"It's a new world and it's one GM hopes to win," said Paul Hemmersbaugh.

Paul Hemmersbaugh is with General Motors. GM recently partnered with a software firm, to accelerate testing of driverless ride shares.  "We intend to deploy them in fleets... we don't intend to sell them, at least not initially to individual consumers but instead provide rides," he said.


"Everyone has a different business model," said David Strickland who represents the biggest names in Silicon Valley, from Google and Uber, to Ford, which just announced plans to make self-driving cars available for sale in five years.


"The technology is here... we're just trying to make sure it truly performs as designed and (is) always safe," said Strickland.


The industry is fueled by the idea that driverless cars are lifesaving.

They claim computers eliminate human error, blamed for a majority of traffic accidents. But critics aren't buying it. that includes the California watchdog group that helped introduce the "lemon law."  "These cars are not ready for prime time yet and when you talk with the tech industry they will sometimes admit that the cars can't see to go in conditions like rain, fog, snow, even smoke." says Rosemary Shahan of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

Shahan's group says it may take the DMV to court.  The agency says it's set on seeing robots hit road, in the name of public safety.  "The whole idea of the self driving car is to make our roads safer," said DMV Spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez.


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