California seeks to ease rules on self-driving cars

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) unveiled on Wednesday a revised set of regulations that will bridge the gap between testing self-driving cars and allowing the public to use them.

But the federal government has offered only guidelines, not rules, on self-driving cars, failing to ensure public safety, advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said Wednesday.

The new regulations, developed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, are based on feedback from technology companies and consumer and safety advocates. 42 companies are now registered with some 285 autonomous vehicles being tested now, and over 1,000 drivers are specially trained and registered to supervise those autonomous vehicles while they're on the road.

Self-driving cars will of course still have to abide by California's traffic laws and a remote monitor will be required to observe the vehicle and take control if needed.

"We are excited to take the next step in furthering the development of this potentially life-saving technology in California", said state Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly.

"The regulations continue to require the manufacturers to certify they're meeting federal safety standards as a prerequisite both for testing and deployment on our streets and roads", Soublet said. The state had proposed requiring companies to obtain city approval to test cars without drivers, but it backed off after industry lobbying.

Paul Hemmersbaugh, an executive with General Motors and former chief council for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said earlier this year there are too many variables to be able to predict when the transition will begin to mass distribution of the vehicles.

"The DMV regulations for testing are a good first step", said Laura Fraade-Blanar, a post-doctoral fellow at the Rand Corp.

MI and Nevada also allow autonomous vehicles on the road for testing, but each state requires test drivers to be inside vehicles. Input from tests such as those in California is invaluable to that process.

The bill still has to secure a vote in the Senate, though it appears on track to pass.

But Smith said, "I am struck that California's DMV is becoming increasingly nimble in updating its rules in response to developments in the technologies, applications, and federal regulation of automated driving". They must provide police a way to deactivate the vehicle and communicate with the auto company. Currently, nearly 1,000 safety drivers are licensed to test those cars, but once the new rules go into effect in 2018 these members of staff will no longer be required for testing.

There are 285 autonomous vehicles licensed with the DMV and 996 drivers licensed to test those vehicles, DMV officials said. There's also a template manufacturers must fill in and submit to the department to document moments when a vehicle's autonomous mode had to be suddenly disengaged.

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