California DMV to Release Self-Driving Vehicle Regulations

By: Bridget Clerkin November 21, 2015
CA DMV is ready to release the first set of self-driving car regulations.
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The California Department of Motor Vehicles is on the precipice of taking us all to a future many have imagined for some time: a world where cars will drive themselves.

The state agency announced earlier this week that they intend to release the world’s first set of regulations regarding self-driving vehicles before the end of 2015.

How the cars will be tested for the road, how manufacturers can guarantee their safety in a variety of situations, and just how much interaction humans must have with the vehicles will all be under the DMV’s jurisdiction and discussed in the upcoming rules.

The regulations will usher in a huge change, and have, accordingly, taken some time to put together—more time than was originally expected, in fact. The rules are coming nearly a year after the latest deadline to complete the task given to the agency, which was up this past January. The DMV cited both the complexity and novelty of the matter for the delay.

Also at issue were competing opinions of current manufacturers of the vehicles and the DMV over which aspects of the driverless experience should be up for discussion.

While the state agency has sought out data regarding safety features such as how far the cars can “see” and how fast they can go, among other questions, manufacturers have refused to reveal the information, which they consider “trade secrets.”

Google, the company at the head of the driverless car movement, also reportedly came to loggerheads with the DMV over the fact that the company believed a steering wheel and pedals were not necessary in the vehicles.

In the meantime, Google has been road testing some models in California and, most recently, Texas, whose state government showed a willingness to green-light whatever necessary to get the vehicles on its roads as quickly as possible.

The tech giant has reported that the test cars have so far been involved in 17 collisions over 2.2 million miles of driving, including 1.3 million miles of “self-driving” mode. Still, it insists that its cars were not at fault in any of those accidents.

A Google self-driving car was, however, pulled over in Mountain View, California earlier this month for driving too slowly. The officer on the scene reported traffic backing up behind the slow-moving, little white car, which was going 24 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone.

While no harm was ultimately done, the incident did bring more attention to self-driving vehicles and raised further questions about the driverless process, specifically about who would get ticketed when such a car is pulled over.

According to an article by the Washington Post, legal experts posit that, in the case of the vehicles currently on the road, the ticket would be administered to the human operator currently required to be present during road tests. However, it remained unclear what would happen once driverless cars become more standard on the streets.

Those questions may be answered when the California DMV releases its rules. But whichever regulations they decide upon, the state agency is hoping to broadcast those suggestions to as many people as possible.

According to DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez, the agency is planning a public workshop in Sacramento after releasing its new rules, in hopes of reaching manufacturers of the vehicles and others involved in the process.

Still, the regulations won’t be official until passing a 45-day comment period, during which time the public will be allowed to have their say on the suggestions. The rules would then be submitted to—and need official approval from—the Office of Administrative Law before being accepted and bringing the future to California’s roads.

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