California Says Not Now For Truly ‘Driverless’ Cars


California officials have upset Google with proposed rules for public use of driverless cars. The rules would mean a licensed driver would have to be in the car whenever it was used.

The state was among the earliest to allow testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads, albeit with some tight regulations such as a driver always having the ability to take control in an emergency.

Now California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has developed draft regulations for if and when autonomous vehicles are opened up for general use. Three of the key points in the new rules should be relatively uncontentious:

  • Manufacturers must certify that they comply with safety rules and undergo independent testing of vehicles.
  • The initial permit for manufacturing such vehicles will run for only three years, in effect creating a trial period for the new rules. Because of this restriction, manufacturers will have to lease rather than sell the vehicles.
  • Manufacturers will have to tell users what data the car collects. There’ll also need to be a capacity for the car to detect and if necessary combat any cyberattack, warn the driver, and allow a manual override.

It’s the fourth point that’s upset Google. For the initial trial period at least, there’ll always have to be a licensed driver in the car, sat at the wheel. That excludes either “fully autonomous” vehicles, or cars used solely by people without a license.

While there’s clearly a logic to that, particularly during the trial period, Google says requiring a licensed driver would not only put unnecessary limits on the technology’s possibility, but would exclude people who “need a fully self-driving car today” such as those with health issues and disabilities.

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