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California's self-driving cars could soon be setting off without human help

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California is well-known as a popular testing spot for self-driving cars (opens in new tab) - not only are some of the world's biggest tech companies based there, the state's laws are particularly friendly towards autonomous vehicles, and those laws just got a little bit friendlier.

Ever since self-driving technology first appeared, car makers have had to get special permits to test out their vehicles, and they've also had to put human drivers behind the wheel should anything go wrong.

Now though, that last restriction is being relaxed, as the Verge reports (opens in new tab) - California has adjusted the wording of its regulations so that the computer inside a self-driving car can be considered the driver, removing the technicality that meant old-fashioned human drivers had to go along for the ride too.

On the road

That doesn't mean a fleet of driverless cars are suddenly going to hit the streets of California, because companies will still have to pass a number of stringent safety checks to even get a temporary license for testing out autonomous vehicles in the sunshine state.

But it is a significant step forward in self-driving car regulation. It's likely that the technology for autonomous vehicles is going to be ready a long time before the governments of the world are prepared to make it legal - Tesla's cars already come with (opens in new tab) pretty much everything they need to drive themselves.

So if you see a car without anyone inside it in California, don't panic, because it's probably just Google or Uber testing out their latest update (opens in new tab). Trucks and motorcycles are going to get separate legislation in the near future, the authorities say.

David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.