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Automakers balk at California’s proposed self-driving car rules

Google had a self-driving car sitting at the show, but it wasn't driving itself anywhere.reader comments 14 Share this story On Wednesday, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) held a meeting to discuss a set of proposed rules (PDF) that would govern how state regulator would deal with autonomous vehicles in the near future. The California DMV’s rules lifted from guidelines that the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) published last month then made voluntary.

That troubled automakers and autonomous software engineers from Google, Ford, Volkswagen, and Honda, all of which currently have licenses to test autonomous vehicles on California’s roads as long as those cars have a qualified driver. Eighteen companies working on self-driving vehicles have licenses to test autonomous vehicles in the state.

California’s strong technology industry made it a hotbed for autonomous driving research, and the state’s large population often means that companies will adapt their product to meet California’s regulatory demands if they’re more stringent than rules governing other states in the nation. According to Reuters, Google and other automakers objected in particular to a proposed rule that would require the self-driving car builder to submit a year’s worth of testing data on when the car had to be disengaged from autonomous mode in order for that car maker to be allowed to fully deploy the self-driving vehicle. A coalition of self-driving car makers including Google, Ford, Lyft, Uber, and Volvo said that such a rule would significantly delay getting autonomy into cars, which automakers and regulators largely agree could decrease accidents significantly. The private companies also questioned the privacy implications of some of the DMV’s proposed rules. “The manufacturer shall certify that it will release autonomous technology sensor data... that is in its possession or control to law enforcement or peace officers within 24 hours of their request for such data,” the proposal reads.
Such a request could be delivered without a warrant or a subpoena. The proposed rules weren’t all restrictive, however.

California’s DMV did suggest a way forward for automakers who want to deploy driverless vehicles—in which a steering wheel would be absent—on public roads in the near future. However, the DMV’s rules noted that an autonomous vehicle engineer would have to seek approval from all local governments that the car would pass through during testing. Ron Medford, director of safety for Google's self-driving car project, called this rule “unworkable,” according to Reuters. The proposed rules also mandate that manufacturers must update the autonomous technology “at least annually,” a directive that the manufacturers did not appear to object to. Of course, these are only proposed rules.

The California DMV stated that it will be considering changes to the rules in the coming months.