Autonomous Cars Get Green Light In California, But With Strict Rules
May 22, 2014

Self-Driving Cars Get The Green Light In California

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

In the near future, you might not be able to get mad at the driver of the car that cuts you off – at least not in California where that car might not actually have anyone behind the wheel.

While the days of a true driverless car are still far down the road, this week California's Department of Motor Vehicles approved regulation effective September 16 that would allow automobile manufacturers that have secured the proper permits to test driverless cars on public roads. This move could pave the way for a market of autonomous vehicles.

However, it still might be a while before the driver's seat is truly empty.

According to the California DMV site:

"'Autonomous vehicle' means any vehicle equipped with technology that has the capability of operating or driving the vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person, whether or not the technology is engaged, excluding vehicles equipped with one or more systems that enhance safety or provide driver assistance but are not capable of driving or operating the vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person."

In other words, the auto companies will be able to test autonomous capabilities, but the regulation further mandated the presence of an autonomous vehicle test-driver – basically an authorized person with the proper class of license who could also take physical control of the car at any time.

The road likely won't be filled with test cars immediately either.

Manufacturers will need to apply for a permit for each individual vehicle, and each of these cars will have at least five million dollars worth of liability insurance. Manufacturers will also need to provide – in writing – the identification of the autonomous vehicle to be used for testing on public road; and this includes the model and model year of the vehicle as well as the full vehicle identification number (VIN).

Test drivers need to be an employee, contractor or designee of the manufacturer and will be required to obey all provisions of the Vehicle Code and local regulations, while also knowing the limitations of the vehicle's autonomous technology. The manufacturers will also be required to maintain a training program for test drivers, but further provide the DMV with a course outline and description of the autonomous vehicle test driver program.

The rules also state that if a test vehicle is involved in any form of accident the incident must be reported within 10 days to the DMV.

While all these rules may seem to be on the intense side, it is worth noting that the DMV is concerned about public safety, and driverless cars could cause some concern to other drivers on the road.

"The DMV has a really, really difficult task, and I was impressed with the thoughtfulness of their approach," Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) told ArsTechnica. "I would say that anyone who is reading these documents will have to read very closely."

Smith also added that the training program for test drivers could also be more intense than just learning to drive a car.

"As automated systems get more complex, human understanding also gets more complex," Smith said. "For a vehicle to suddenly swerve to the right, a human would have to grab [the steering wheel]... training becomes even more important, and it would also be important for general users."

Self-driving cars may also not be entirely new to some California residents.

"They've been legal in the state since 2012, and Google has already started testing cars in its hometown of Mountain View," Engadet reported. "The new regulations created by the DMV are designed to put a few boundaries on that testing."

As for what could possibly go wrong? An autonomous car was recently part of a joke on a recent episode of HBO's tech industry satire "Silicon Valley." A software glitch takes the passenger not to his home but rather to a port, where car (and passenger) were quickly loaded onto a shipping container.