Get out of the way, people: The California Department of Motor Vehicles released its updated proposed regulations for autonomous vehicles "post-testing deployment" on Friday, and they relax a number of rules and restrictions in what's likely an effort to keep autonomous car companies from fleeing the state. There are more than 20 manufacturers testing autonomous cars in California today, but all have drivers behind the wheel ready to take the reigns at a moment's notice. No more, the department proposes, amending its existing rules "to include the testing of vehicles that do not require the presence of a driver inside the vehicle and ensure the testing of such vehicles is conducted on California public roads in a safe manner."
One pertinent Bay Area driving question: Does this mean it's legal to ghost ride the whip? I kid.
For some autonomous cars, even if a human driver wanted to hit the brake or turn the wheel, they couldn't — Google, for example, has developed prototypes without appendages like pedals or wheels, and were dismayed by previous draft DMV regulations that would require them. But the new proposed rules would throw out that requirement, as the Associated Press takes note.
Some pundits interpret that move and others as concessions to the companies developing self-driving technologies and vehicles, though perhaps necessary ones. “If California was going to keep that level of development activity in the state, what they did was necessary and timely," Eric Noble, president of an automative consulting firm, tells Bloomberg. "They kind of had to do it because at some point manufacturers can’t move autonomous vehicles forward without getting controls out of cars.” Bloomberg also explains that if car companies test vehicles without conventional controls, they'll have to prove to the CA DMV that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has signed off on them as well.
Ryan Calo of the University of Washington School of Law expressed some concern to Wired about the fact that companies can "self-certify" their vehicles to drive without people rather than passing a DMV mandated test. “It makes me a little nervous, honestly, he said. "That’s like me going to the DMV and saying, believe me, I’m an excellent driver."
A 45-day public comment period for the proposed rules, which the AP calls "the most detailed regulatory framework of any state," has begun, and a public hearing in Sacramento for input will be held on April 25. The new rules could take effect by the end of 2017, and would make a limited number of self-driving cars available to customers as soon as 2018, provided that federal government permission is also granted.