Ready for a Ride in a Self-Driving Car? Head to California

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A look at California’s plan to make self-driving cars public.

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. Google has spoken of its disappointment over new proposed Californian state rulings declaring a human must be present inside a driverless car at all times while driving.California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has unveiled draft regulations that would govern how consumers get access to self-driving cars — once they are ready for the public to use them safely.

What follows is a look at the main provisions, some of which will be the subject of concerted lobbying by automakers and tech giant Google, before the agency finalizes them. 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. While the regulations are not yet enforced, the news throws a spanner in the works of Google’s fully autonomous cars programme, which it’s been working on since 2009, testing the vehicles in and across the state since 2012. “We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here.” “In developing vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button, we’re hoping to transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94 per cent of accidents caused by human error or bringing everyday destinations within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car. In September, the safety chief of its self-driving car project, Ron Medford, said the technology is “close to working pretty damn well.” California’s go-slow approach could benefit Texas, which this summer emerged as a competitor in the deployment of self-driving cars when officials in the capital Austin welcomed Google prototypes for professional testing. “Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, DMV believes that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public,” the agency said in a written summary of its draft regulations. We want to get public input on these draft regulations before we initiate the formal regulatory rule making process.” Self-driving cars will also be required to detect, self-diagnose and respond to cyber attacks and other unauthorised intrusions, allowing the human driver to take control, the ruling stated. “Driverless cars certainly capture the imagination but, as is so often the case, perception and reality are vastly misaligned,” said French Caldwell, senior executive at MetricStream. “People see Google’s driverless car and think ‘that’s the future,” but really it’s a test vehicle, one that won’t roll off the assembly line any time soon.

We should be talking about evolution, not revolution, and the conversation needs to shift from driverless car models to driverless car features, because that’s what we’re seeing today.” Last week the Telegraph revealed how Google has held multiple discussions with the British government about the prospects for driverless cars in the UK. 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. For the first three years of its deployment, manufacturers would need to collect safety and performance information and report that data monthly to the agency.

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 auto makers as well — and probably some confirmation that developers of these technologies should be pivoting away from California,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies self-driving car regulation. “California’s proposed rules are fantastic news for Texas.” Austin’s mayoral spokesman Jason Stanford said his city’s government believes self-driving cars are “legal and safe” already and that the city is “thrilled to host innovative ideas like this.” California has grappled for several years with how to regulate the technology. The DMV said it wanted regulations to protect public safety, but not be too onerous so that signature companies such as Google will be stifled in developing 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 DMV “did exactly what they should do, which is put the public safety first — and then take steps that promote the technology in a safe way,” said John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog and frequent Google critic. 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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