Google's self-driving cars have made impressive progress in the past few years, logging over 700,000 accident-free miles without human intervention, according to the company (there has been at least one accident reportedly caused by a human driver). But starting this month, Google and any other ambitious automakers need to get permits from state of California to unleash self-driving vehicles on public roads. Last week, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) handed out its first 29 permits for testing autonomous cars. Google won 25 of the 29 total permits, which will allow the company to test 25 modified, self-driving Lexus SUVs, according The Guardian. Meanwhile, Audi and Daimler AG-Mercedes Benz also received two permits each to test their own modified, self-driving cars.
The permits are the result of a law California passed back in 2012 officially specifically authorizing autonomous vehicle tests, which came after similar laws were passed in Florida and Nevada. Though not illegal before, there weren't any specific regulations in California governing how self-driving cars should be treated differently from cars with human drivers. Now any qualified organization can apply for self-driving car permits: they cost $150 for the first car and $50 for every additional car, and require companies testing them to cover insurance costs up to $5 million.
The permits are designed to help legitimize and regulate the burgeoning technology, while making sure that California remains at the forefront of its research and development. Small wonder the California DMV trumpeted the news. "Autonomous vehicles are the future of transportation. The potential safety and mobility benefits are enormous," said Jean Shiomoto, director of the California DMV in a statement. "Testing on public roads is one step to developing this technology, and the DMV is excited in facilitating the advancement of autonomous vehicles in California."
Correction: this story originally stated that Google only conducted self-driving car tests on closed courses or select areas. The company actually was able to conduct tests anywhere in the state. The story has since been updated to reflect this.
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