Eye on safety, California sets rules for self-driving cars

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

California proposes rules for self-driving cars.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California regulators have unveiled a roadmap that would let consumers begin using self-driving cars, though manufacturers would have to prove the emerging technology is safe before a licensed driver could get chauffeured around town. The approach California’s Department of Motor Vehicles offered Wednesday in precedent-setting draft regulations is cautious, though it does allow that Californians could be behind the wheel of a self-driving car by 2017. An autonomous car being developed by Google — seen Feb 2 2015 with US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx — would be barred from California roads under draft rules proposed Dec 16 because a driver can’t assume control of the vehicle.

Google, which is pushing to get cars without a steering wheel or pedals to consumers, expressed “grave disappointment” with the rules, which the tech giant said would slow deployment of technology with huge life-saving potential. California has been at the forefront of the fast-growing autonomous vehicle industry, fuelled by technology companies in Silicon Valley, and is one of a handful of states to have passed regulations enabling self-driving car testing on public roads.

California rules-of-the-road for self-driving cars would have the potential to set precedent, and the proposed regulations were seen as sure to slow down the speed with which the technology would go mainstream. “The primary focus of the deployment regulations is the safety of autonomous vehicles and the safety of the public who will share the road with these vehicles,” DMV director Jean Shiomoto said in a release. Instead of being sold, self-driving cars could be leased for “approved deployment periods,” with performance and safety data regularly reported to the department. Self-driving vehicles would also need to be equipped with self-diagnostic capabilities that detect and respond to cyberattacks “or other unauthorized intrusions, alert the operator, and allow for an operator override.” Ford this week said that it has a green light to test self-driving cars in California, and should have them on roads in the most populous US state next year. There are no comprehensive federal rules addressing the technology, and as the largest auto market in the U.S., rules in California are a landmark in the development of self-driving technology. Under California’s framework, 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.

Google – which is operating its self-driving cars on the streets of Palo Alto, California and Austin, Texas – and other carmakers and suppliers have said the technology to build self-driving cars should be ready by 2020. Though the timeline for public access is squishy, in principle the DMV could finalize the rules and a manufacturer could satisfy the safety requirements as early as 2017. “This points to a very long slog ahead for not just Google, but really other automakers as well,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies self-driving car regulation. He added: “California’s proposed rules are fantastic news for Texas.” Austin’s mayoral spokesman Jason Stanford said his city’s government already believes self-driving cars are “legal and safe” and is “thrilled to host innovative ideas like this.” California’s DMV has said it wanted regulations to protect public safety, but not be so onerous that they would stifle development of a technology that could prove safer 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. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers industry group was not publicly critical, perhaps because traditional automakers the group represents are phasing in features such as automatic braking and cruise control that adjusts to the speed of other vehicles — instead of jumping to a car that drives itself, as Google envisions. The DMV “did exactly what they should do, which is put the public safety first,” said John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog and frequent Google critic.

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