California Proposes Rules for Autonomous Cars

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California Proposes Rules for Autonomous Cars.

LOS ANGELES — The latest on the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ draft regulations that would allow consumers to get self-driving cars (all times local): A consumer group is applauding California regulators for draft rules that require a licensed driver be behind the wheel once self-driving cars are ready for the public.

California has published the world’s first regulations dealing with the routine use of autonomous cars on city streets — a big step toward the day when computers, not humans, are in charge of cars.California on Wednesday unveiled proposed regulations for autonomous cars, a long-awaited step for car companies seeking guidance before eventually selling them to consumers. If they are adopted, manufacturers will be able to operate or lease – but not sell – self-driving cars to the general public for the first time in the US.

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. 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. 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.’s Google. He says the technology hasn’t been proven safe and it makes good sense to require a driver at the ready, as well as other safety certifications from manufacturers and an independent tester. This could, for example, allow car makers to lease autonomous vehicles to members of the public — something that would provide valuable real-world data about the car’s performance and its ability to handle diverse traffic situations.

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. 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. Anyone hoping to jump in the driver’s seat of an autonomous car will need to hold a regular driving license and an additional autonomous vehicle operator certificate issued by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), according to the proposed regulations.

The regulations also won’t permit a car designed to move without a driver, which means Alphabet’s driverless vehicle prototype initially wouldn’t be allowed. 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. 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 draft regulations will require manufacturers to obtain written permission from human operators for any information collected by the autonomous technology, and to address cybersecurity concerns. “Autonomous vehicles will be equipped with self-diagnostic capabilities that … are capable of detecting, responding, and alerting the operator to cyber-attacks or other unauthorized intrusions,” says the DMV. The agency was supposed to propose regulations at the start of 2015, but that process has dragged on over issues including how a person could take over when the car concludes it cannot drive safely, how to prevent hackers from seizing control of what amount to computers on wheels, and the privacy of data that the cars collect about their users.

Car makers will have to disclose to drivers any information the autonomous vehicle collects that is not necessary for safe operation of the vehicle and obtain written approval to collect it. Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles-based consumer advocacy group that has been petitioning the DMV to take a methodical approach to the regulations and avoid pressure from car makers, says it is generally happy with the proposed rules. “We’ve long been advocates of the notion that if you are to have a so-called self-driving car, you’ll need a steering wheel and pedals and licensed driver capable of taking over if something goes wrong,” said John Simpson, an advocate at the organization. “We’re glad the DMV has taken that approach.” The rules published on Wednesday are still just a draft.

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. 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. They have to go through a rule-making process that is expected to take at least half a year, so they aren’t likely to become law until the second half of 2016.

Google is already testing its self-driving cars in Texas, which has no special requirements for the testing of autonomous vehicles, and the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, has directed his transportation agencies to accelerate the testing and deployment of completely driverless vehicles on state universities, in partnership with Uber. The road to Wednesday’s regulations began several years ago, when Google approached a California legislator about getting formal approval for testing the company already was doing on California freeways.

Among other proposed rules, California suggests requiring auto makers to submit monthly reports regarding the performance and safety of their autonomous vehicles. 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. The DMV intends to hold informal workshops for public input in January and February, and hopes — after making any changes — to publish final regulations later in 2016.

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