Driverless car race nears finish in America's West

Updated 2018-03-01 10:09:02 Xinhua

Long before Vin Diesel and Paul Walker were thrilling international audiences with Fast and Furious, car races had been a deep-seated part of American culture.

And a race gaining international attention - to see which state will first put driverless cars on its roadways - is coming to a head with Utah, Arizona, and California neck and neck.


California retook the lead Monday from Utah by announcing that by April 2 the public could start rolling down the freeway without a person in the driver's seat.

"Most likely you aren't going to see (public) permits right away...but we will see," said Jessica Gonzales, spokeswoman for California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Gonzales told Xinhua Tuesday that test permits for driverless taxi companies like Uber and Lyft are likely to be issued first.

Last week, Utah's House Transportation Committee voted 10-0 to fully legalize driverless, autonomous vehicles anywhere on the state's roads with insurance backing, and full approval is expected in the next couple of weeks.

And in Arizona last month, officials gave Waymo the green light to order "thousands of vehicles" to run a self-driving transportation network company (TNC) in Phoenix using its Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Many thought the Sunshine State would win the race when Governor Doug Ducey put driverless cars on the fast-track with an executive order in 2015, and after Ford, GM, and Google relocated their driverless operations into the state in 2016.

But that was before big, bad California flexed its muscles.

"California is car crazy, and with Silicon Valley leading the technology, it would be hard to see them play second fiddle to any in the auto industry, even Detroit," said H. Dudley Davidson, a Maryland car collector since 1976.

The new California DMV rules released this week are strict - with applicants required to show and explain remote control links and provide cyber attack and law enforcement action plans - and approval after a month-long vetting process that begins March 2.

"Take a look at 'The Love Bug,'" Davidson told Xinhua, about the 1968 Hollywood blockbuster featuring a semi-autonomous car named Herbie that wins a California race against all odds.

"Here we are 50 years later, and California is poised to put thousands of Herbies on the road by the end of the year. Only in California," Davidson said Tuesday.

But the race isn't over yet, and even Californians think upstart Utah and its tiny population of 3 million could win in the weeks ahead.


"Utah will beat California, because, while both have high tech sectors, Utah has a more homogenous population and a Republican controlled state legislature that are on the same page," said San Francisco businessman Glenn Nemhauser.

Last week, Utah's sponsor, House Rep. Robert Spendlove, echoed the sentiments of political leaders in tech-savvy Arizona and California: "There is a great opportunity because of Utah's tech center to really take a lead in this area," he said in a statement.

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