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California Bill Aims to Force DMV to Consider Fully Driverless Cars

Legislation in the Assembly would require the state's regulators to listen to the federal government when it comes to autonomous vehicle policy.

With California and the federal government apparently heading in opposite directions when it comes to regulating self-driving cars, one state legislator is pushing to bring them closer together.

After the California Department of Motor Vehicles announced a set of draft regulations in December that would prohibit cars from driving without humans around, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said that he would work to put out guidelines for state regulation before the end of the year. Those guidelines would, in all likelihood, allow for cars with higher levels of autonomy.

Now, California Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, has filed Assembly Bill 2682 to require the state DMV to hold hearings on the adoption of “any regulation applicable to the operation of an autonomous vehicle without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle.” That would include model policies from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In a March 15 press release, Chang said she’s concerned about companies working on autonomous vehicles going out of state to test their technology. Since the DMV proposed its regulations, Google and other companies have publicly pushed for the department to reconsider. Though most of its testing has been in the Bay Area, Google is also testing its autonomous vehicles in Austin, Texas, and Kirkland, Wash.

"We are competing with business-friendly states like Texas to keep the tech in California, so we need to make sure we don’t lose another opportunity for keeping jobs in California — and potential federal funding,” Chang said in the statement.

That’s because the DOT is also pursuing $4 billion in funding for research and development of autonomous and connected vehicles.

Meanwhile, a whole host of cities, states and universities have beefed up their efforts to attract companies working on autonomous vehicles. Michigan, in particular, is working on a deal to buy up an abandoned industrial site and convert it into a testing grounds for autonomous vehicles — this is on top of the existing MCity testing grounds at the University of Michigan.

“The DMV is not exactly known for being an incubator for high-tech,” Chang said in the statement. “This bill ensures that federal policies promoting this emerging technology are appropriately considered by California’s regulators.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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