Truly autonomous vehicles are poised to be an exciting technology, but as with any other technology, there are always regulatory hurdles to be cleared. As first spotted by public records sleuth Mark Harris, a bill working its way through the California legislature would require the state’s DMV to effectively legalize Google’s ambitions of having a driverless fleet of self-driving Koala cars…
The current proposed DMV regulations would ban Google’s prototype self-driving cars without manual controls, but would be superseded by this new law. The cars are designed with no steering wheel, gas or brake pedals and are currently being operated under DMV self-driving car testing rules issued in September 2014. At the time, Google temporarily added steering wheels and pedals to comply with DMV testing requirements.
Assembly Bill 2866 “Autonomous vehicles”, which was amended April 11th, 2016, would permit the public operation of autonomous vehicles without a Google test driver in the vehicle, as well as those not equipped with a brake pedal, accelerator pedal, or steering wheel:
This bill would authorize, notwithstanding the above requirements, the operation of an autonomous vehicle without a driver in the vehicle or an autonomous vehicle not equipped with a brake pedal, accelerator pedal, or steering wheel on public roads for testing and operation purposes if all other requirements of the above provisions are met and the operator of the autonomous vehicle is capable of taking immediate control of the vehicle in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency. The bill would require the department to adopt conforming regulations no later than July 1, 2018. The bill would require the department to submit a report on the results of the testing and operation of these autonomous vehicles to the Legislature, as specified.
This would allow Google, or any mobility-as-a-service provider like Uber, to deploy their self-driving car fleets without much restriction — albeit the bill only requires the department of motor vehicles to comply by July 1, 2018. Google should be fine with this timeline as the program’s director Chris Urmson previously said that his optimistic goal is to have the technology out to the public before his son needs a drivers license in 2019.
In Jan 2016 the US Department of Transportation said it would issue guidelines to allow and encourage driverless operations like the proposed California bill above. Since the DMV proposed rules to ban Google’s Koala car operations in Dec 2015, Google has expanded its fleet testing to Kirkland, WA and Phoenix, AZ.