California recently moved up the timetable for its testing of autonomous cars without any human backup drivers. This is the first time self-driving cars are being tested in California without a human behind a steering wheel. Until now, the only such cars being tested on public streets required a person at the wheel in case of an emergency.
State regulators created rules and regulations geared towards getting autonomous cars into dealerships and on California streets as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. Manufacturers were given permission to apply for permits starting March 2, and must provide a plan for working with local law enforcement. The regulations go into effect April 2.
Why California stepped up their game
Even though driverless-car technology is being developed in California, companies like Waymo have already been testing the cars without a human in Arizona and other states. The belief is that requiring a human in the car severely limits the kinds of tests that can be applied to absolute self-driving vehicles. For example, a truly driverless car may be able to operate for 24 hours straight, without a drop-off in alertness or attentiveness.
To stay competitive with the technology that was hatched there, California made this move to stay competitive in the field.
Nidhi Kalra, a Rand Corporation senior scientist who has been studying autonomous vehicles for years said, "You can't test what true, full autonomy looks like unless there's no driver at all. To be able to test it right in your backyard is a really big deal."
The question of safety
The new testing has come under fire from the Consumer Watchdog, an outspoken advocacy group. They claim that autonomous cars have not yet been proven safe enough to be tested without someone behind the wheel.
Their privacy and technology project director John Simpson said, "It will be just like playing a video game, except lives will be at stake”.
Although the cars will operate without a human behind the wheel during the tests, people will still be able to control the cars remotely. Under the new regulations, a remote operator will be monitoring the car at all times and will be able to take over, if needed. The regulations also require that the remote operator be able to communicate with law enforcement personnel, as well as any passengers in the car, should there be an accident.
Interest in California high for self-driving car manufacturers
California presents a unique challenge for testing truly driverless autonomous cars. It is a very large and populous state. In addition, its clout as the nation’s biggest car market and longtime role of cultural trendsetter makes it a prime proving ground. To date, fifty companies have permits to test on public roads and highways there.
About the new regulations
The rules, written by California's Department of Motor Vehicles and approved by the state's Office of Administrative Law, have been in the works for several years.
Department of Motor Vehicles Director Jean Shiomoto said the new regulations, with safety as the top concern, require manufactures to provide the DMV with a law enforcement interaction plan as one of the requirements to get approved for a permit.
The Department will also create the framework under which consumers can eventually buy driverless cars.
The new California regulations do not include testing of autonomous trucks and other commercial vehicles without actual drivers.
We’d be very interested to hear what you think about the whole subject of autonomous vehicles, so please, comment below.
Group Matrix Blog – March 27, 2018 – by Sharon Bowles