California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has released a draft of possible new regulations that could affect the development and marketing of autonomous vehicles.
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The California DMV claims that its draft rules, released for public comment this week, are aimed at ensuring the safety of all road users while still promoting the continued development of driverless car technology.

The DMV says the draft’s strict safety-focused requirements are designed “to address complex questions related to vehicle safety, certification, operator responsibilities, licensing and registration, privacy, and cyber-security”.

The draft is built around four key requirements, including vehicle safety compliance, three-year ‘deployment’ certification, the presence of a licensed driver and full transparency on privacy and ‘cyber-security’ matters.

The first point requires that manufacturers comply with independent testing and certification of a driverless vehicle range’s safety, in much the same way that the local ANCAP system tests and ranks safety features. An ANCAP rating is not a mandated requirement, however.

Manufacturers would also be approved for a “three-year deployment permit”, requiring regular reports on the performance, safety and usage of their autonomous vehicles.

“Data collected throughout the permit term will provide an opportunity to evaluate the safety and real-world performance of autonomous vehicles and inform subsequent regulatory actions by the department,” the draft reads.

The California DMV has also specified a requirement for full disclosure of how private information is collected - if at all - in driverless vehicles. The DMV does not specify how or why such information might be collected, although it notes that information needed for the safe operation of the vehicle would be permitted.

Volvo driverless autonomous technology

The final requirement calls for manual human controls and the presence of a licensed driver that must also be certified specifically for operating an autonomous vehicle.

Interestingly, the proposed legislation would see the driver held responsible for any accident not clearly the fault of another driver, which flies in the face of Volvo and Google who have both explicitly stated that they will accept responsibility for such accidents in their driverless vehicles.

In a statement today, Google said that it is “gravely disappointed” by the proposed regulations, suggesting that the potential benefits of autonomous cars would be hugely affected by the need for a licensed operator.

“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 percent 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,” the company said.

“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.”

Speaking with technology website re/code.net this week, a spokesperson for the California DMV said that the proposed rules are far from locked in.

“Any of this stuff can be changed down the line,” the spokesperson said. “The regulations are in draft form and they will evolve as we get input.”

Neighbouring Nevada has openly embraced the development of driverless vehicles, issuing special licences to the likes of Google, Audi and Freightliner for testing on public roads, but it has yet to define how driverless vehicle technology should be regulated in the market.