Google’s Robot Car Report Shows DMV Is Right

There is new proof that California's Department of Motor Vehicles is getting it right with its proposed regulations for the general deployment of self-driving robot cars. Ironically, the evidence comes directly from Google itself, which has said it is “gravely disappointed” by the draft rules.

This week, Google released its disengagement report to the public showing that over 15 months the robot technology failed and handed control to the driver 272 times and a test driver felt compelled to intervene 69 times.  Analysis of the incidents when the test driver opted to intervene found that in at least 13 cases the car would have caused a crash without human help to save the day.

How can Google possibly be so audacious as to propose a robot car with no steering wheel, brakes  and no provision for a human to take control when necessary in the face of its own test results?

DMV’s draft regulations require that a licensed driver be behind the steering wheel capable of taking control.  The rules also make clear who would get a ticket if there’s a traffic violation: that driver.

Currently regulations governing testing self-driving robot cars on California roads are in place. A key provision is that a company testing the vehicles file a “disengagement report” with the DMV detailing when the autonomous technology failed and turned control over to the human driver, as well as when the driver felt compelled to take control.

Seven companies that were approved for testing self-driving cars in 2014 were required to file disengagement reports with the DMV by Jan. 1.  The seven are Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi, Tesla, Bosch and Nissan.

Release of the disengagement report was a positive step, but Google should also make public any video it has of the disengagement incidents, as well as any technical data it collected so we can fully understand what went wrong as it uses our public roads as its private laboratory.

Meanwhile, the DMV got it right in more ways than just its proposed regulation requiring a driver behind a steering wheel  who can take control when necessary.  The department took a strong step promoting transparency. Shortly after Google released its disengagement report,  the DMV posted all seven companies reports on its own website.  For the most part, they show a higher rate of disengagements per mile than Google.

We might be riding around in robot cars someday, but the DMV’s required disengagement reports show we’re not there. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom frets that the “draft regulations may prove too onerous, create road blocks to innovation, and may ultimately drive the development of this promising industry to other states.”  

The DMV has it right as the Internet giant’s own numbers prove. It’s imperative the DMV continue to put public safety first, and not cave to corporate and political pressure.

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