Automation

California Proposes Update to AV Testing Regulations

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has put forth new regulations that would allow for less restrictive testing and deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.

by / October 11, 2017
DMV Chief Counsel Brian Soublet Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
California is taking another step toward clearing the way for fully self-driving cars.
 
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed new regulations to allow for permitting and less restrictive public testing of autonomous vehicles. 
 
The DMV aims to submit a more formal regulatory package to state officials by the end of the year, aiming for updated regulations to take effect by June 2018, said Brian Soublet, chief counsel for the California DMV, in a media conference call Oct. 11.
 
“It could be sooner than that, but it’s all contingent on when the regulations are approved,” said Soublet.
 
The state currently allows testing of autonomous vehicles on public roadways. However, a human driver must be in the vehicle at the time of testing. The proposed changes would allow for testing to occur without a driver present.
 
“What we’re setting up is, as [car companies] develop the technology, if they are prepared to start testing them without a driver present in the vehicle, they would be able to apply and get a permit from the department to do so,” Soublet told reporters.
 
The proposed language would also allow for the vehicles to be operated on California streets once testing is complete and the car companies have certified that they are safe and in accordance with federal safety standards, the agency official said.
 
“It will also allow, for the first time at least here in California, to get a permit to allow the public deployment of the vehicles,” Soublet said. “That means in fleet vehicles, or leasing arrangements, or sales of vehicles. It will set the path toward the public actually being able to use the technology put out by manufacturers.”
 
The DMV's new language follows a previous look at the regulations in March, where discussion of driver intervention was also a consideration. This iteration of the rules comes as a result of those conversations and the accompanying public comment.
 
If formally adopted, the new rules would also require car companies to notify local authorities prior to testing. The notification must include specific testing locations as well as the dates and times of the testing. The new rules do not, however, relax prohibitions against testing autonomous vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds.
 
Currently the state has permitted 42 manufacturers to test some 285 vehicles and 996 drivers, according to DMV statistics. 
 
In recent months, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ease regulations around the development of self-driving cars and the technology associated with them. Similarly the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also voted in support of a bill to allow more self-driving vehicles on roadways. Where committee members pointed to opportunity to expand on innovations in the space, critics said the decision gave carmakers too much leeway and not enough oversight.
 
The U.S. Department of Transportation has also offered guidelines related to autonomous vehicle development, taking a largely non-regulatory, industry-friendly approach.
 
California motor vehicle officials say they support the federal government’s direction, which maintains the oversight and regulation of car safety at the federal level.
 
“These regulations continue to recognize that the responsibility for motor vehicle safety resides at the federal level and the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration,” said Soublet.
 
The proposed changes are in the public review phase for the next two weeks.
Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.