The Business Times

California DMV puts brakes on self-driving car technology

Published Thu, Dec 17, 2015 · 12:45 AM
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[SAN FRANCISCO] Fully autonomous vehicles aren't ready for prime time, as far as California's Department of Motor Vehicles is concerned.

The agency published draft regulations on Wednesday for how manufacturers can move from testing self-driving car technologies to start making vehicles available to customers.

California, as the state with the most cars on the road, often ends up setting many of the standards for the auto industry. Silicon Valley is where much of the research into autonomous vehicles is taking place, while many automakers have their design shops in the Los Angeles area. For now the DMV isn't allowing automated cars that don't have a human driver, even though Google Inc. is building one that's designed to work without a person behind the wheel.

"Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, DMV believes that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public," the agency wrote.

Recent vehicle prototypes by Mountain View, California- based Google are designed to move at the push of a button, and have no steering wheels or pedals. Google plans to spin out its self-driving car division into its own company next year, and introduce services in Austin and San Francisco. The proposed DMV regulations may affect plans for San Francisco.

"Safety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this," Johnny Luu, a spokesman for Google, said in a statement. "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." Automated Features For cars with self-driving features that also require a human driver, approved manufacturers will be issued a three-year permit and the vehicles can only be operated by the manufacturer or leased to the general public. Several automakers, including Tesla Motors, already sell products that fit into this category.

A representative from Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manufacturers will need to submit monthly reports outlining the performance, safety and usage of their autonomous vehicles, the DMV said. They'll also need to provide a written disclosure to operators of the cars outlining the data that they'll be collecting. Drivers will also be responsible for any traffic violations.

"The worrying thing would be a rush to regulation preemptively," Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car program, said at an event in November. "We're really in very much the early days of the technology, and if we paint the box we're going to be stuck in that forever."


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