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Cruise, Waymo granted first California passenger permits for driverless vehicles

If you live in the Bay Area, you might be able to catch a robo-ride in the very near future.

Waymo and Cruise are now allowed to carry passengers under specific circumstances.

Waymo and Cruise have been at the forefront of the autonomous passenger car development game for a few years now, and according to a report published Thursday by Reuters, they're also the first companies to be granted permission by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to carry passengers in driverless vehicles in California.

Why is that a big deal? Well, simply put, California doesn't mess around when it comes to self-driving car regulations, so this means that both Waymo and Cruise's systems are considered safe enough to operate on public roads with members of the public as passengers -- though that doesn't mean they can charge people for the privilege. Charging people for rides will require another permit from a different agency -- the California Public Utilities Commission -- but we suspect that will be a far smaller hurdle to clear. 

The permits issued by the DMV aren't carte blanche for Waymo and Cruise to drive all over everywhere, of course. Waymo is restricted explicitly to San Francisco and San Mateo counties, and its vehicles can't go any faster than 65 mph. Cruise is more limited and can only operate in specific parts of San Francisco, only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and then only at 30 mph.

While fully Level 4 or 5 autonomous vehicles that are available for purchase by the public are still a long way off, now at least you don't necessarily have to go to Phoenix to catch a ride into the future, and that's a good thing because Phoenix is too damned hot.

While Waymo opted not to comment officially, Cruise representatives stated that "It brings us one step closer to achieving our mission to make transportation safer, better, and more affordable in cities with our fleet of all-electric, self-driving and shared vehicles."

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Update, 3:19 p.m. PT: Added statement from Cruise.