California opens driverless car competition with testing regulations

At the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium this week, Professor John Leonard tipped the audience that California just released rules for testing autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways. It was also reported last night by CBS Sacramento. The ruling means that Californians will soon be seeing more autonomous vehicles than just those built by the Google X labs.

 California Department of Motor Vehicles website

It’s clear that autonomous vehicles are ready for deployment by the Californian public yet. There are three buttons on the California Department of Motor Vehicles website: Background on Autonomous Vehicles Regulation, Testing of Autonomous Vehicles, and Deployment of Autonomous Vehicles for Public Operation. The last button, Deployment, is inoperative. So the California DMV may be optimistic in putting the button on the page, but the rules for deployment have not yet been written. Under the supporting legislation these rules could be released as early as January 1, 2015.

The rules cover registration through testing on public roads. A driver must be in the driver seat at all times to override the autonomous vehicle when needed, and every error and disengagement of the autonomous control system must be reported to RMV program administrators.

Getting started requires the DMV’s approval of testing under controlled circumstances prior to testing on public roads. The manufactures must insure the vehicles with a $5 million surety bond. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers need a permit and test drivers need a special license. The DMV will receive applications beginning on July 1, 2014, and the permits that are granted will be announced beginning on September 1, 2014.

These vehicles offer great promise, such as freeing the driver’s attention for productivity or leisure, better safety and less congestion. It will be a while, though, before we see these vehicles on the road. Autonomous vehicles will move the Zip Car car-as-a-service concept forward when deployed, because a subscribers would simply summon cars using an app.

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