California is officially embracing the self-driving car
By Matt McFarland
WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- The California government, long cautious with self-driving cars, has changed its tune.
The state DMV issued proposed rules for the testing and deployment of fully self-driving vehicles Friday. The news appears to clear the way for cars with an empty driver's seat to operate on state roads by year's end.
California's DMV had long frustrated the self-driving car industry, which felt state regulators were holding back innovation that could improve public safety. The DMV previously missed a deadline for autonomous vehicle rules. And when it released rules in December 2015, it excluded fully self-driving vehicles, citing safety concerns.
Over the years, some companies, such as Google and Uber, resorted to shifting tests outside their home state.
The California DMV has wrestled for years with how to comfortably sign off on a self-driving car operating on public streets. While experts agree that self-driving cars will eventually be far safer than human drivers, autonomous vehicles will not immediately be flawless or even better than a human. Governments worldwide are struggling with how to certify that a fully autonomous vehicle allowed to drive on public roads is safe enough.
The DMV previously considered using a third party to examine vehicle data, or external test tracks for autonomous vehicles. But Friday it revealed it would allow manufacturers to self-certify that their vehicles are safe, a move that follows in the footsteps of the current federal government plan for autonomous vehicles.
In a sense, the licensing process for a robot that wants to drive on California roads is more lax than what a human driver seeking a license must go through. Humans must pass a state driver's test. The makers of self-driving cars must just provide a safety assessment letter to the state.
In a briefing with reporters, California DMV deputy director Brian Soublet downplayed the different approaches to putting humans and robots on public roads.
"It's a minimal test. It's basically seeing that they have the skills to operate the vehicle," Soublet said the driver's test for humans. "And there's all of the post-licensing discipline that goes with it. We believe that that same type of a structure is being established here."
Just as the DMV can revoke a human's license, it can also revoke a company's ability to operate self-driving cars on state roads, under the proposed rules. The DMV will exercise this right if it sees recurring safety issues with a vehicle, according to Soublet.
The DMV also took a step toward embracing new vehicle forms, such as a car without a steering wheel or pedals. Under its proposed rules, the DMV will allow cars without a steering wheel or pedals, provided that the maker has the approval of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.
TM & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.