California DMV Stops Short of Fully Embracing Driverless Cars

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California D.M.V. Stops Short of Fully Embracing Driverless Cars.

The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday issued a draft of potential regulations for putting regular people behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles. LOS ANGELES – California unveiled precedent-setting draft rules Wednesday that would slow the public’s access to self-driving cars of the future until regulators are confident the technology is safe.

The California DMV released its draft guidelines for the deployment of some autonomous vehicles Wednesday, offering an early window into how regulators will address safety and privacy concerns surrounding the emerging technology.California on Wednesday unveiled proposed regulations for autonomous cars, a long-awaited step for car companies seeking guidance before eventually selling them to consumers. A spokesman for Austin Mayor Steve Adler says the city is “thrilled” to host to such innovations and says local leaders believe self-driving vehicles are safe.

The current draft rules appear to be a barrier to companies interested in offering fleets of fully autonomous vehicles as a ride service in the state. “We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars,” Google said in a statement. “Safety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this.” The rules should be less of a concern for companies pursuing a more incremental approach to the technology. Deciding how much to hold computers responsible for accidents and other missteps has been at the center of burgeoning debates over how to regulate driverless cars. Though no manufacturer has said it thinks the cars are ready just yet, at least a dozen are developing the technology, and the most aggressive suggest a model could be ready within a few years. Autonomous vehicles are far from being offered for sale alongside other cars, but are increasingly under development among both traditional auto makers and Silicon Valley companies such as Alphabet Inc. Silicon Valley giant Google has pushed hardest, already building a prototype without a wheel or pedals but rigging the hardware back into the cars pending the long-anticipated regulations.

The rules apply to a specific slice of autonomous driving — more advanced than Tesla’s autopilot system — but less sophisticated than the Google car that has neither a steering wheel nor pedals. Regulators in California are taking the unusual step of developing regulations for the vehicles ahead of time as harbingers of them pop up in traditional cars through features including automatic brakes. Manufacturers would also have to regularly report accidents, come up with security measures to prevent hackers from taking over cars, and tell passengers what kind of data, beyond whatever information is needed to safely run the car, the companies are collecting about them. States including Texas, Nevada and Michigan have courted testing on their roads but not weighed in on consumer use of the cars in detail as California did Wednesday.

California’s proposed regulations would require consumers to get a special state-issued driver’s certificate after receiving training from a car company on how to use a driverless vehicle. Initially, manufacturers would receive a permit for three years, during which time consumers could lease the cars but manufacturers would be required to keep tabs on how safely they are driving and report that performance to the state. Before granting that initial permit, both the manufacturer and an independent certifier would need to sign off that the car has passed safety testing. The DMV suggests that a third-party organization test the vehicles to verify manufacturer claims that its vehicles meet safety and performance requirements. The DMV had the experience of testing whether humans are capable of driving safely enough, but it lacks experience in determining that a robot can drive safely.

Google’s autonomous vehicle effort is part of the X division of Alphabet, a holding company formed in August to separate Google’s search and advertising businesses from more speculative projects. In California, it has had to put temporary controls in the vehicles because the state already has testing rules that require human test drivers to be able to take control.

The operator of the vehicle will also be responsible for any traffic violations. “The technology is developing, and what we think is necessary for safety in December of 2015 may not be the same thing that we think is necessary for safety in December of 2017,” said Brian Soublet, deputy director of the California DMV. “As we have greater assurances that vehicles can do more in a safe manner, this is probably a process that’s going to be changing over the next few years.” The draft rules also stress privacy, requiring manufacturers to disclose any information collected by the vehicles that is not necessary for safe operation of the vehicle. After all, cars that can safely drive themselves under all conditions wouldn’t rely on drivers who may be drowsy, distracted, buzzed — or unable to drive because of their age or a disability. Autonomous vehicles could be a data gold mine, giving companies insights into the movements of individuals, which could be lucrative for personalizing advertisements or other services.

The D.M.V.’s draft is basically a starting point for two workshops — one in Sacramento, another in Los Angeles — where regulators and manufacturers will talk about rules for allowing ordinary people to operate self-driving cars. The DMV says it wants public input on its draft regulations before starting the formal rule-making process and will hold a workshop in January and one in February. Given the nature of the rule-making process it appears likely to drag on for some time, which should frustrate companies pushing to roll out autonomous technology.

The technology company has a fleet of vehicles running around the state and earlier this year started testing in Texas, a state that has no regulations. The first milestone was last September, when the D.M.V. introduced a series of guidelines that allowed companies like Google and others to start testing self-driving cars on California roads.

Alphabet officials in the past have questioned why extra regulations are necessary if the vehicles are following existing traffic regulations, and can be demonstrated to do so better than human drivers. The road to Wednesday’s regulations began several years ago, when Google approached a California legislator about getting formal approval for testing that the company already was doing on California freeways.

Department of Transportation signaled that it was reviewing its own guidance on self-driving cars with an eye toward getting them into broad public circulation. Google believes the safest path is to take people out of the equation by having control limited to stop and go buttons, with the leader of Google’s project saying that humans are “the bug” in the driving task. Among other proposed rules, California suggests requiring auto makers to submit monthly reports regarding the performance and safety of their autonomous vehicles.

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