DMV Considering Flawed Robot Car Rules; Deployment Should Not be Allowed

The current California regulations covering testing autonomous vehicles have set the standard for the nation by promoting innovation while protecting the safety of our highways.   Unfortunately, the Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed new rules covering testing of robot cars without steering wheels as well as the deployment of autonomous vehicles for public use.

The rules covering testing could be enacted with amendments, but the deployment rules are premature and should be withdrawn.

The new regulations are the subject of a DMV hearing at 10 am Tuesday in Sacramento. The proposed deployment regulations are fundamentally flawed because they rely on the federal government to set enforceable safety standards for autonomous vehicles.

But there is no federal safety standard specifically governing autonomous technology and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s policy amounts to asking automakers voluntarily to please drop a letter in the mail that says, “yes, we thought about these issues.”  The status of federal policy is now even murkier with the Trump Administration’s uncertain approach to the issue.  As yet, President Trump has not even bothered to nominate a NHTSA administrator.

California set the standard for safe testing of autonomous vehicles with the regulations enacted in 2014.  Safety was the primary consideration and the DMV recognized the importance of transparency in both the regulation and its implementation.

Developers of autonomous vehicles have wrongly claimed that regulations thwart development of the technology, but that is clearly not the case when 30 companies have obtained permits to test their robot cars here and the state is the center of AV activity.

As the department moves toward enacting regulations covering testing of robot cars without drivers and the deployment of self-driving vehicles, both with and without human drivers, it is appropriate that the new regulations are offered in two separate articles, Article 3.7 and Article 3.8.

Testing regulations, Article 3.7,  with some key amendments could be implemented and continue to provide reasonable safeguards for testing.  For instance an amendment should require that companies be required to show that municipalities have given approval for testing of robot cars without steering wheels and test drivers in their respective jurisdictions.

Another import provision of the proposed regulations is a section that would prevent manufacturers from using terms to describe a vehicle that would lead people to believe it is autonomous when it is not.  This is an important protection. Tesla’s “Autopilot” has killed two people who likely thought their Level 2 car was more autonomous than was actually the case.

However, deployment of robot cars and enacting Article 3.8 is premature and irresponsible. The proposed regulations rely on federal safety standards.  There are none.  Regulations that rely on a foundation that simply does not exist are little more than a meaningless house of cards.

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