California approves of certain driverless autonomous vehicles

This week California approved of driverless testing and public use of autonomous vehicles that do not exceed a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds.

Prior to these new rules, autonomous vehicles could only be tested in California with an approved driver.

“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”

Several autonomous truck and car developers have favored testing their technology in states that do not require a person behind the wheel. Companies invested heavily in AV development, such as Tesla, Waymo and Uber, are based in California where regulations requiring a driver behind the wheel took effect in September 2014.

This latest set of AV regulations establishes rules for testing autonomous technology without a driver and how manufacturers can allow the public to use self-driving cars. The regulations become effective on April 2, 2018, and DMV can begin issuing permits on that date.

To date, 50 manufacturers have a permit to test autonomous vehicles with a driver in California. Until the new rules take effect, manufacturers can continue to apply for a test permit with a driver.

The adopted regulations do not include testing and deployment of autonomous trucks and other commercial vehicles. The DMV will be collaborating with the California Highway Patrol to begin exploring safety and regulatory considerations associated with these vehicles.

Consumer Watchdog, which has been highly critical of AV testing on public roads, likened California’s new regulations to a deadly video game that threatens highway safety.

“A remote test operator will be allowed to monitor and attempt to control the robot car from afar,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog privacy and technology project director. “It will be just like playing a video game, except lives will be at stake.”

Requirements for Driverless Testing include:

  • Certify that local authorities, where vehicles will be tested, have been provided written notification.
  • Certify the autonomous test vehicle complies with requirements that include a communication link between the vehicle and remote operator, a process to communicate between the vehicle and law enforcement, and an explanation of how the manufacturer will monitor test vehicles.
  • Submit a copy of a law enforcement interaction plan.
  • Certify the autonomous test vehicle meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) or provide evidence of an exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Certify the autonomous test vehicle is capable of operating without the presence of a driver and meets the autonomous technology description of a Level 4 or Level 5 under the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) definitions.
  • Inform the DMV of the intended operational design domains.
  • Maintain a training program for remote operations and certify each operator has completed training.
  • Submit an annual disengagement report and submit collision reports to the DMV within 10 days.

Requirements for Deployment (Public Use) include:

  • Certify the vehicle is equipped with an autonomous vehicle data recorder, the technology is designed to detect and respond to roadway situations in compliance with California Vehicle Code, and the vehicle complies with all FMVSS or provide evidence of an exemption from NHTSA.
  • Certify the vehicle meets current industry standards to help defend against, detect and respond to cyber-attacks, unauthorized intrusions or false vehicle control commands.
  • Certify the manufacturer has conducted test and validation methods and is satisfied the vehicle is safe for deployment on public roads.
  • Submit a copy of a law enforcement interaction plan.
  • If the vehicle does not require a driver, the manufacturer must also certify to other requirements, including a communication link between the vehicle and a remote operator and the ability to display or transfer vehicle owner or operator information in the event of a collision.