California DMV revises rules to get ready for self-driving future

Andrew Cummings
October 12, 2017

A 15-day public comment period will follow Wednesday's release of the new draft rules.

California is developing a plan to allow the testing of driverless cars without someone behind the steering wheel by next June. The regulations are expected to be set by the end of the year and approved by the DMV early next year.

The administration has responsibility to regulate safety in the design and performance of vehicles, while states regulate drivers and vehicle operations.

Before deploying a driverless vehicle, manufacturers are required to certify that their vehicle meets federal safety standards and is created to comply with state traffic laws, according to the DMV.

More than 40 companies are testing self-driving vehicles in California with human controls, and most automakers have autonomous research centers in the state, which is the largest US auto market.

He notes, "I think a reasonable guesstimate might be that some manufacturer might be ready to commercially deploy some significant number of (autonomous vehicles) in two to five years". The issue remains controversial, with some safety advocates saying the industry is pushing the technology forward too quickly. Many safety experts believe that robot cars will prove far safer than human drivers. The DMV will then submit the new rules to the state government to start enforcing them in 2018.

"This sets us on a path toward the public being able to use the technologies put forth by vehicle manufacturers", said Brian Soublet, DMV deputy director, in a media call.

In addition, companies must prove the vehicles can only operate autonomously in places it was created to, and they must furnish the DMV with all sorts of information about how the vehicles react to various issues that may or may not be programmed into the car's computers.

The revised regulations also clarify to which local authorities manufacturers must notify when they are planning to test autonomous vehicles without a human operator, which cites "local authorities" as defined by California Vehicle Code 385.

The new regulations would trim back existing rules that require municipalities to approve vehicle testing.

The new rules will, for the first time, allow technology companies to run cars amid traffic on city streets without anyone in them. They must also provide advanced notice about tests and disengagements, which is when a vehicle stops operating autonomously while driving. State-approved human drivers are required to sit behind the wheel of those cars. Right now, these companies are testing cars that can at best be considered Level 3 autonomous, meaning they still require some human intervention.

The Senate version of the proposed law would not allow large driverless trucks. The new regulations should be in force sometime next year, although it may take a while after for companies to build out fully autonomous cars that comply with the new regulations.

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