If you’re an autonomous automaker, you can now start testing your fully driverless cars on roads in California. State DMV regulations that came into effect on April 2nd now indicate that they can issue three types of autonomous vehicle testing permits. The first kind is the original one it approved years ago, which needs a driver behind the wheel, while the other two could pave the way for the release of Level 4 to 5 autonomous vehicles. See, the second type of permit it can dole out will allow automakers to test fully driverless vehicles, and the third will give the companies permission to deploy them.
Is this coming at a bad time though? Uber and Telsa were recently involved in fatal accidents where their self-driving technologies were being used. California officials said the fatality in Arizona, along with the death last month of a Tesla owner whose vehicle was operating in partially-automated “Autopilot” mode, did not shift their overall approach as the long-awaited regulations finally took effect. The state officially approved these new regulations back in February, and they include conditions that automakers must be able to meet before they can get the permit.
What are those conditions, you ask? To be able to get permission to test driverless cars, for instance, they must have already tested them in a controlled environment. Also, their creation must meet Society of Automotive Engineers’ definition of a Level 4 or 5 autonomous vehicle. That means their cars should be able to drive and stop themselves with no human interaction need; Level 5 vehicles can also have no steering wheels, gas or brake pedals. That said, California requires automakers to monitor their driverless vehicles using remote human operators, who can take over their controls if and when needed.
One firm has applied for one of the new permits, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. It will be named later in the approval process, the DMV said. Back in 2012, when California officials started drafting plans to regulate cars that could drive themselves, the idea was still fresh and new.
The California DMV “takes the safe operation of our autonomous permit holders very seriously,” the agency said in a statement Monday, noting that the regulations have been under development for years. “The Department will not approve any permits until it is clear that the applicant has met all of the safe operation requirements set forth in law and in the regulations.” The rules require developers of the technology to certify that their vehicles have “been tested under controlled conditions that simulate, as closely as practicable” the types of conditions and circumstances they are designed for, according to the state DMV. That might include operating at night in the rain in a particularly busy geography.
Other rules include: automakers and tech firms must notify local communities of their testing plans; must have a continuously monitored “two-way communication link”; and must tell the state when they have a fender bender or more serious crash, or their cars’ autonomous technology “disengages” and needs, for example, to pull over because of a malfunction. While the idea of autonomous cars might be scary, I think that they need to move forward with this testing and make sure that it’s done in safe way. This kind of technology has been coming forward for years, it’s about time that some lawmakers put the rules in place to allow it to happen. I think this is a great step in the right direction and I look forward to seeing what developments come out of it.