Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Money | By Armando Alvarado

California Relaxes Regulations on Self-Driving Cars

California Relaxes Regulations on Self-Driving Cars

We might still be years away from the wild self-driving utopia some people envision, but it's good to see California taking steps to ensure that, when self-driving cars are ready for public consumption, the Golden State will be among the first to embrace them.

Under that framework, which could be tweaked in coming weeks, companies could begin testing prototypes with no steering wheel or pedals - and nobody at all inside.

That doesn't mean you'll be able to buy a completely driverless vehicle next year, or even hitch a ride in one. Before they can be approved, the regulations will be subject to a public comment period that ends October 25 and then submitted to the state government for enforcement.

Driverless cars are already operating in Arizona, Florida and several other states that have looser regulations than California or no specific driverless regulations at all.

Under the new rules, autonomous cars without a human driver will need a "minimal risk condition", basically a "safe mode" that the vehicle can default to if the autonomous sensors or computers fail.

California regulators on Wednesday unveiled revised rules on the testing of self-driving cars after automakers and technology companies raised concerns.

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"The new California DMV proposal wrongly relies on the federal government, when there are absolutely no Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards applying specifically to autonomous vehicle technology", said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director. Shortly after the new regulations were announced, Consumer Watchdog issued a statement condemning the state for deferring to the federal government's standards - or lack thereof - on self-driving auto regulation.

And manufacturers still have to obey the state traffic laws written for California.

A Waymo self-driving vehicle.

"This amendment was necessary because requiring the technology to be "both remote and on board" could be unnecessarily limiting on the development of the technology; changing it to "and/or" provides the flexibility that the technology can reside either entirely, or partially, on or off-board", the DMV said of the rule changes. Currently, nearly 1,000 safety drivers are licensed to test those cars, but once the new rules go into effect in 2018 these members of staff will no longer be required for testing.

Currently, most companies are testing cars which could be considered Level 3 autonomous, which means they still require some human intervention, but the technology is advancing at a tremendous pace and it's expected large gains will be made in the next 12 months.

Congress is now considering legislation that would loosen federal requirements on driverless-car testing. Feedback on the previous version of the DMV regulations came from manufacturers, the state government, insurance companies and consumer advocates.

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