California DMV proposes relaxed regulations for self-driving cars

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles is proposing more lenient state regulations to allow manufacturers to test and deploy self-driving cars.

The agency said Wednesday that it would allow autonomous vehicles to be tested without a human behind the wheel, and such vehicles could be used by the public. The proposed regulations will undergo a 15-day comment period, ending Oct. 25.

“The department looks forward to seeing those companies and additional companies advance the technology under these new regulations,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement. “Today’s action continues the department’s efforts to complete these regulations by the end of the year.”

The proposed regulations are a revised version of those published on March 10, after the agency received feedback from manufacturers, consumer advocates, local government and insurance companies. The DMV said it expects the revisions will take effect before June 2018.

The new regulations are a marked change from the DMV’s previous stance on autonomous vehicle testing. Under current law, test vehicles must have driving controls and a driver behind the wheel.

California also requires manufacturers to obtain licenses to test self-driving cars — 42 companies now hold such permits — and report any traffic accidents they are involved in and any instances where autonomous mode is disengaged. The new regulations would enact a universal template for reporting disengagements with a standardized form to disclose when and how a disengagement occurred.

The regulations do not cover the testing of autonomous vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

The state also requires manufacturers to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and share any safety assessments submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA released its revised autonomous vehicle testing guidelines in September, and Congress is currently considering two draft bills to regulate self-driving car deployment.

Though California has been a hub for autonomous vehicle development, companies such as Waymo and Uber have been operating self-driving ride-hailing pilots in Arizona and Pennsylvania, where regulations are less restrictive.

Reactions vary

Wade Newton, a spokesman for trade group the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said Wednesday it appeared that California had recognized that “certain onerous” requirements could delay deployment of self-driving technology. 

“We appreciate the (state’s) attempts to streamline requirements consistent with the recently updated federal guidance,” Newton said.

But the Association of Global Automakers, a trade group representing mostly Asian and European automakers, said California did not go far enough.

“A special permit is still required to deploy, creating regulatory uncertainty and raising concerns about the ability of autonomous vehicles to cross state lines,” it said.

Companies would still need a California permit to test or deploy vehicles on state roads.

California would also require automakers and tech firms to record information about autonomous sensors in the 30 seconds before a collision. Vehicles must follow all state laws “except when necessary for the safety of the vehicle’s occupants” or other road users.

Consumer Watchdog criticized the revisions, saying California should stick to its earlier, stricter state requirements.

The group noted local communities could not block testing under the proposal.

Last week, a Senate panel approved a bill aimed at speeding the use of self-driving cars without human controls in the United States, a measure that also bars states from imposing regulatory road blocks.

Automakers would be able to win exemptions from safety rules that require human controls if they met certain requirements. States could set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but not performance standards.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra told Reuters on Tuesday that the federal legislation “allows us to get this technology on the road,” but declined to say when the automaker might seek approval for exemptions.

Reuters contributed to this report

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