Autonomous cars are already on the road in California, as 42 companies including General Motors, Google/Waymo and Zoox are testing 285 self-driving cars in various cities. However, thus far, all of them have had humans inside them at all times. That’s about to change.
At the moment, requirements promulgated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles insist on the human driver for safety reasons. However, at some point that flesh and blood security blanket has to go in order to achieve truly reliable, proven autonomous technology. With this line of thinking in mind, the DMV released a proposal for updating the regulations for autonomous vehicles. The changes would allow companies to deploy autonomous vehicles without drivers on public roads, and they should be in place by June of 2018, if not sooner.
Meanwhile, Congress is slowly making progress around the issue of autonomous
vehicles. California has always served as a sort of laboratory for testing innovative laws, especially in the realm of tech. If California has driverless cars on the road before Congress acts in a definitive way, and these trials go well, it may well determine what comes next.
California’s new regulations also raise the price of testing permits from $150 a year to $3,600 for two years, and prohibit testing companies from charging riders fees for being passengers in testing vehicles. They also require testing companies to notify local authorities about any tests they undertake without drivers, including providing them with specific details about which roads and vehicles will be involved in the testing.
There is always the chance that the federal government will either refuse to follow California’s example or act before there’s an example to follow. If they set national rules for autonomous vehicles, state laws like the new California regulations will be preempted. However, if we’ve seen anything as we’ve navigated the quickly-changing autonomous driving landscape, it’s that predictions often fail — so we’ll just have to wait and see where the (driverless) road takes us.