Coming nearly a year after its January 1st, 2014 deadline, the California Department of Motor Vehicle today released those draft rules governing the use and operation of self-driving cars on California roadways. In a move that is sure to draw complaints from the likes of Google and other companies developing the vehicles, the rules mandate that the autonomous rides come equipped with a steering wheel and have a licensed (and, presumably, sober) driver on board to take over in case of emergency.
"A licensed operator will be required to be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency," explained the DMV in a partial summary of the draft rules. "Driverless vehicles are initially excluded from deployment," it continued, dashing the hopes of everyone itching to hail a Johnny Cab.
In a press release, DMV Director Jean Shiomoto spoke of the driving factor behind the department's decisions.
“The primary focus of the deployment regulations is the safety of autonomous vehicles and the safety of the public who will share the road with these vehicles,” she explained.
Interestingly, the DMV also has in mind issues of consumer privacy.
"Manufacturers must disclose to the operator if information is collected, other than the information needed to safely operate the vehicle," the press release explains. "Manufacturers will be required to obtain approval to collect this additional information."
Though what this "approval" might look like is unclear, the mandate brings to mind some future Google self-driving car terms of service agreement that requires passengers to acknowledge everything they say over the course of the ride will be analyzed to enable the company to display ads based on conversation topics.
The Chronicle notes that even if the new draft rules are finalized, we shouldn't expect to own our own self-driving cars soon as "initially, manufacturers would receive a permit for three years, during which time consumers could lease the cars but manufacturers would be required to keep tabs on how safely they are driving and report that performance to the state."
After an unspecified amount of time to allow for public feedback, DMV officials hope to finalize the rules in 2016.
As for the cautious route taken by the DMV, at least one consumer advocate told the Chronicle the agency is moving at just the right speed.
"[The DMV] did exactly what they should do," said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, "which is put the public safety first."