California DMV: Self-Driving Cars Must Have A Licensed Driver Behind The Wheel

While California’s highways and byways are filling up with self-driving prototypes right now, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is laying down some rules of the road that, if finalized, will mean it could take longer for the public to get their hands on driverless cars.

California is taking a cautious approach to autonomous vehicles, reports the Los Angeles Times, with draft rules released this week that err on the safe side of things: cars must have a steering wheel and a licensed driver ready to jump in if the vehicle fails to do what it’s supposed to.

The rules say that even if a manufacturer, say, Google, thinks its car is ready for the market, it wouldn’t be a short trip from factory to the consumer: automakers would get a permit for three years, during which time consumers could lease the cars from them, but manufacturers would have to keep an eye on the vehicles and make sure they’re driving safely, and make performance reports to California.

Before even getting that first permit, both the manufacturer and an independent certifier would have to sign off that a car has gone through all the necessary safety hoops. Those who want to lease or use one of the cars would also have to get special training provided by the automaker and then receive a special certification on their driver’s license.

“Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, DMV believes that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public,” the agency said.

The draft rules are a guide for the industry as the technology moves from small-scale tests in the state to the future of self-driving cars for everyone and anyone. The rules may change in the next few months before they’re finalized — likely sometime next year — and already, some companies are calling the guidelines overreaching.

Google said it was “gravely disappointed” by the DMV’s draft regulations, saying it would restrict the use of driverless cars. And with a driver required behind the wheel, it wouldn’t be the autonomous future the industry hoped for.

“In developing vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button, we’re hoping to transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94% of accidents caused by human error or bringing everyday destinations within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car,” Google spokesman Johnny Luu said in an emailed statement to USA Today.

“Safety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this. We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here,” he wrote.

Self-driving cars must have driver behind the wheel, California says [Los Angeles Times]
Google ‘disappointed’ by proposed restrictions on driverless cars [USA Today]