California Opens Roads to Driverless Cars

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Californians knew it was coming, but nobody expected it to be so soon. Move over, a driverless car is about to pass you.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has announced new regulations, which go into effect this fall, that allow car manufacturers to certify their own cars. Certification was a roadblock to the industry, which already has found open roads in other states.

"Since the adoption of the current testing regulations, the capabilities of autonomous technology has proceeded to the point where manufacturers have developed systems that are capable of operating without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle," the DMV said in a statement.

Shifting Gears

While California is loosening its rules, some observers do not like the turn-around on self-certification. The DMV had previously required a special permit for the self-driving car.

"I question the wisdom of self-certification, especially with players that are not as sophisticated," said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington professor who teaches robot law. "I think it would be wiser to have third parties audit the technology."

Addressing some concerns about product integrity, the DMV will prohibit manufacturers from deceptive advertising about self-driving vehicles. A manufacture may not advertise in a way that a "reasonably prudent person" would be misled to believe that a vehicle is autonomous.

Also, the DMV has not changed its attitude about Uber's self-driving cars.

Not Too, Uber

Uber had tested its self-driving cars in San Francisco, but the DMV banned them in December. The agency said the cars required a special permit, so the company moved its operations to Arizona the next day.

"California may not want you; but AZ does!" Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said on Twitter.

The new rule says that passengers may hail an autonomous car in California, but only if they don't have to pay for the ride. Apparently, the agency is watching out for those privileged people who want to command their autonomous cars to pick them up.

But it's California, so it could happen.

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