News

California DMV Puts the Brakes on Google Autonomous Cars

Proposed operational rule requires licensed (human) operator.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles will not allow Google and its competitors to operate autonomous cars equipped without steering wheels and other standard controls, according to its proposed rules on the operation of such vehicles. A “key aspect” of the 22-page proposed rule is that “a licensed operator will be required to be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.”

Google had expected that California would adopt rules allowing its driverless car prototypes to operate, up to their 35-mph top speed, without a steering wheel or throttle and brake pedals, based on Senate Bill 1298, approved in 2012. In fact, Google’s driverless car chief, Chris Urmson, told AUTOMOBILE earlier this year that he had expected the autonomous operation rules to be issued by the beginning of 2015.

Chris Urmson

“Testing regulations [already in place] require a wheel and pedals,” California DMV deputy director Bernard Soriano explained last spring. “What we’re working on is operational regulations. The question is whether those vehicles would require controls.”

Google did not get what it wanted in these proposed rules; “driverless vehicles are initially excluded from deployment,” the DMV summary says. But the agency does hold out hope that the tech company may be able to operate such cars in the future.

“The department will address the unique safety, performance, and equipment requirements associated with fully autonomous vehicles without the presence of a driver in subsequent regulatory packages,” DMV’s press release says.

The proposed rules also require manufacturer certification and third-party testing, and manufacturers must ask owners’ permission to collect information from the vehicle, if such information is more than what is needed to safely operate the driverless car. Driverless car permits would be valid for three years, and a vehicle’s manufacturer must “regularly report on the performance, safety and usage of autonomous vehicles.”

The DMV also has asked the University of California, Berkeley’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH) to “conduct a peer review of the behavioral competencies necessary to safely operate autonomous vehicles.”

Next step is public comment on its proposed autonomous car operation rules. No doubt, Google management, which had expected to operate its cars on California streets and roads without steering wheels by now may have some comments. The DMV also will conduct two workshops to discuss the draft regulations: 10 a.m., Thursday, January 28, 2016 at the Harper Alumni Center at California State University in Sacramento; and 10 a.m. Tuesday, February 2, 2016, at the Junipero Serra Building in Los Angeles.