California draft rules put brakes on self-driving cars

A man drives a Google self-driving car in front of the company's headquarters in California, US, on Sept 27, 2013.
A man drives a Google self-driving car in front of the company's headquarters in California, US, on Sept 27, 2013.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SAN FRANCISCO • In what is being seen as a potentially precedent-setting move, officials in California have proposed regulations for self-driving cars which, among other things, require a licensed driver to be in the vehicle, ready to take the wheel if needed.

The draft set of rules released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a public comment phase would not allow for legal operation of an autonomous car being tested by Google because it lacks a steering wheel and foot-pedal controls.

The proposal would have the potential to set a precedent, and was seen as certain to slow down the speed with which the technology would go mainstream.

"The primary focus of the deployment regulations is the safety of autonomous vehicles and the safety of the public who will share the road with these vehicles," DMV director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. "We want to get public input on these draft regulations before we initiate the formal regulatory rule- making process."

Workshops were planned to gather feedback from industry, consumer, academic and advocacy groups, as well as from the public.

GATHERING FEEDBACK

The primary focus of the deployment regulations is the safety of autonomous vehicles and the safety of the public who will share the road with these vehicles. We want to get public input on these draft regulations before we initiate the formal regulatory rule-making process.

CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES DIRECTOR JEAN SHIOMOTO

CEILING ON POTENTIAL

We are 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.

GOOGLE, in an e-mail response to a query. It has been testing self-driving cars on California roads for a while

The proposed regulations call for a licensed driver to be in a self-driving car and able to take control in the event of technology failure or other emergencies.

"Driverless vehicles are initially excluded from deployment," the regulations stated, adding that fully autonomous vehicles would be addressed at some later point in a different set of rules.

Instead of being sold, self-driving cars could be leased for "approved deployment periods", with performance and safety data reported regularly to the department.

The proposed regulations also focused on privacy and cyber security, saying that vehicle makers must let people know what information is collected aside from data needed for safely navigating streets.

Self-driving vehicles would also need to be equipped with self-diagnostic capabilities that detect and respond to cyberattacks "or other unauthorised intrusions, alert the operator, and allow for an operator override".

"We are 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," Google said in an e-mail response to an Agence France-Presse inquiry.

Google's autonomous vehicle effort is part of the X division of Alphabet, a holding company formed in August to separate Google's search and advertising businesses from more speculative projects.

Google has been testing self-driving cars on California roads for a while, and an array of car makers, including Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Tesla and BMW, are working on building self-driving capabilities into vehicles.

Ford said this week that it has received the green light to test self- driving cars in California, and should have them on roads next year.

Driverless vehicles have also been tested in Singapore's Jurong Lake District.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'California draft rules put brakes on self-driving cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe