Emerging Tech

Self-Driving Cars are Hitting California Roads (for Testing) This September

A Google driverless car navigating along a street in Mountain View, California.

A Google driverless car navigating along a street in Mountain View, California. // Google/AP

The California Department of Motor Vehicles signed off on rules allowing the testing of self-driving cars to begin. With that, California becomes one of the first states to create working regulations for autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Jerry Brown, the governor of California, got the ball rolling on self-driving cars in 2012, when he first signed a law allowing the cars to use public roads in 2015 (if they were proven to be safe.) While he signed that legislation over two years ago, no one thought to create the regulations for testing the cars to actually prove they are safe until recently. These new DMV laws will resolve this conundrum. 

The testing of autonomous vehicles is subject to fourteen pages of DMV regulations. First, the companies (Google is already in the self driving car business, but Nissan, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota are looking to join) must register their cars with the state as you would a regular vehicle. They have to identify the make, model, year, and plate before the testing occurs.

When the cars actually hit the road, there must be a driver in the driver's seat during testing, who is trained to operate the vehicle in case anything goes wrong. If the driver ever has to take control of the car during the tests, the state must be notified. That driver has to be approved by the DMV, they are required to have a clean driving record, and they must complete a training program set up by the self-driving vehicle manufacturer. 

The new regulations also include the details of these training programs. The training program must cover the autonomous technology in the cars, defensive driving, and include "instruction that matches the level of the autonomous test vehicle driver's experience operating the specific type of automated driving system technology with the level of technical maturity of the automated systems."

As for the manufacturers, they have to submit proof of insurance up to $5 million in case anything goes terribly wrong (when cars attack.) 

In the event something does go wrong, the manufacturer will have to file the newly created "Traffic Accident Involving an Autonomous Vehicle" report within ten days of the accident. 

These rules go into effect on September 16th, so watch out drivers of California: The robot cars are coming your way. 

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