Driverless cars proposed for California roads
SACRAMENTO – State regulators on Friday proposed easing restrictions on testing autonomous driving systems, which would clear a path for driver-free vehicles in cities, towns and highways.
The proposal would push California ahead of other states and could pave the way for a new world of design and innovation in transportation. It also boosts Silicon Valley’s market position, as tech companies ranging from Google, Tesla and Uber to a number of highly-valued startups seek to crack the engineering challenges of fully autonomous driving.
“This is the next step in eventually allowing driverless autonomous vehicles on California roadways,” Department of Motor Vehicles director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. The changes could come as early as this year.
Regulators say the proposal rules will balance public safety with the tech and automotive industries desires to revolutionizing transit — from self-driving shuttle buses to luxury cars zipping commuters from home to work with no input from passengers.
The new regulations would lean on safety standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, while allowing more testing of driverless vehicles.
Some of the key features of the new regulations include heavy cooperation with industry and consumer groups to establish a framework for driverless testing, identifying requirements for manufacturers to sell the vehicles to the public, and sorting through licensing and insurance requirements.
The DMV will also begin scrutinizing the marketing of driver-assist packages, said DMV deputy director Brian Soublet. Tesla has been criticized for its driver assist package know as Autopilot, which is not a fully autonomous system.
California has been in the vanguard of autonomous driving, granting permits to 27 companies to test systems on local roads. Silicon Valley firms have focused resources and talent at the complex engineering problems, involving computer learning, vision, and artificial intelligence.
Consumer groups have urged the state to put safety first when considering fully autonomous systems.
“The DMV’s current self-driving car test regulations set a standard for the nation, requiring a test driver behind a steering wheel who could take over, and vital public reports about testing activities,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The new rules are too industry friendly and don’t adequately protect consumers.”
The public comment process opens Friday and a public hearing in Sacramento is schedule for April 25. New rules are expected to be established by the end of the year.