FutureStructure

California’s Regulation of Driverless Cars May Be Influenced by Public Forum

The California Department of Motor Vehicles’ revised draft regulations for autonomous vehicles will be open to public comment at an Oct. 19 workshop.

by Mark Glover, The Sacramento Bee / October 10, 2016

(TNS) — Advocates and even critics of self-driving cars agree that they will someday be part of life in California.

Just how soon that happens and what form autonomous vehicles take will likely be determined to some extent in Sacramento just a week and a half from now.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles’ revised draft regulations for autonomous vehicles will be open to public comment at an Oct. 19 workshop.

Anyone assuming that the DMV has already decided what it’s going to recommend would do well to look at what happened since it issued its draft in December.

“After the public comments, there were some changes,” said Jessica Gonzalez, a DMV spokeswoman. “Again, these are drafts. … We do want to move forward with the regulatory process, but we want to continue to hear from the public.”

Almost immediately the December proposals came under fire from some critics as being too conservative, requiring the vehicles to be equipped with steering wheels, pedals and licensed drivers behind the wheel. DMV specified that the licensed drivers must be ready to take control if the self-driving technology fails, or in the event of another emergency.

Rosemary Shahan, president and founder of the Sacramento-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, said that would unfairly place liability on the “driver,” when the onus should fall to the automakers developing the technology. She also said there should be driver training in the event of an autonomous vehicle failure and what to do if the electricity grid goes down.

Groups representing people with physical handicaps also assailed last year’s proposals, explaining that the driver requirements would keep handicapped individuals from taking advantage of the technology, which could dramatically change the transportation and quality-of-life options available to those with physical challenges.

Most significant, DMV’s revised draft regulations, released Sept. 30, embrace the recently released U.S. Department of Transportation proposals on regulating autonomous vehicle technology. The federal government’s report was released after consultation with numerous automotive, technology and safety experts.

DMV says its revised draft regulations also were produced after collaborating with various groups that include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Some parties have already weighed in on the DMV’s most recent draft.

“The new DMV regulations strike the right balance” of technology advancement and consumer protection, said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

“AV manufacturers will need to maintain $5 million in insurance, and the owner or lessee of each car will be required to meet the same insurance coverage required of every other car on the road. As the insurance regulator, we will continue to work with the insurance industry to make sure that they will address the change toward more automation while continuing to provide coverage that protects consumers,” Jones said in a statement.

General Motors released a statement supporting the federal efforts “to speed deployment of autonomous vehicles as a technology that has the potential to dramatically improve safety on our roads and highways and expand mobility options. We welcome the effort, will review the guidance and look forward to continuing the constructive dialogue on how to safely deploy AVs as quickly as possible.”

Since December 2015, major automakers have announced sweeping programs to develop self-driving motor vehicles in California. That includes Audi initiating tests at Thunderhill Raceway Park just outside Willows in Glenn County. In August, Ford Motor Co. announced that it was all in with autonomous vehicle development, including autos with no steering wheels or foot pedals by 2021. Ford touted a collaboration between its Michigan base and experts in and around Silicon Valley.

A couple of highly publicized autonomous vehicle failures have concerned safety advocates, including a May incident in Florida where a tech consultant was killed when his Tesla, in autonomous mode, crashed into a big rig. The victim’s car entertainment system reportedly was playing a movie at the time of the crash.

The revised DMV draft regulations can be viewed at: dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto.

©2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.