Tuesday, 17 October, 2017

Driverless cars could hit California roads as early as 2018

Autonomous cars without human drivers will be allowed on California roads starting next year California DMV changes rules to allow testing and use of fully autonomous vehicles
Melissa Porter | 11 October, 2017, 23:55

Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has called for the California DMV to disallow self-driving vehicles to operate without a driver behind the wheel until NHTSA passes enforceable standards for the cars.

In Arizona, Uber and Waymo have been giving rides to passengers in driverless cars without permission. The technology is still being developed. The revised regulations will be open for public comments for the next 15 days.

California is preparing to let companies test driverless cars without a human at the steering wheel. Those critics have said states with softer regulations were attracting companies for driverless testing and putting California's reputation as the nation's technology innovation leader at risk.

The administration has responsibility to regulate safety in the design and performance of vehicles, while states regulate drivers and vehicle operations. Many safety experts believe that robot cars will prove far safer than human drivers.

Manufacturers complained that this requirement was "overly broad" and potentially prohibitive to their development and testing cycle, and in response the CA DMV adjusted the regulation so that a new application must only be filed if a technology change meets one of a certain set of conditions, such as a change in the vehicle's SAE level - a standard measurement for the level of autonomy a vehicle possesses.

Companies must comply with federal safety standards and certify that their vehicles are created to follow state traffic laws, per the new set of regulations.

"Vehicle safety is the wheelhouse of the federal government", said Brian Soublet, head attorney at the DMV. In addition, manufacturers must also certify their vehicles are created to operate in compliance with state traffic laws.

The new rules come with a growing number of tech firms and automakers testing self-driving vehicles, and follows new guidelines from the federal government aimed at spurring the technology widely believed to improve road safety and reduce accidents.

Currently, 285 self-driving cars are being tested on California roadways by 42 permit holders, majority auto manufacturers or technology companies, according to the DMV.

Under the new rules, autonomous cars without a human driver will need a "minimal risk condition", basically a "safe mode" that the auto can default to if the autonomous sensors or computers fail. State-approved human drivers are required to sit behind the wheel of those cars.

The Senate version of the proposed law would not allow large driverless trucks. The new regulations should be in force sometime next year, although it may take a while after for companies to build out fully autonomous cars that comply with the new regulations.