California DMV and Self-Driving Cars

by William Mattar | March 15th, 2017

California DMV Releases Self-Driving Car Regulations for Public Comment
(Written by Matthew Kaiser)

In late 2015, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) released for public comment draft regulations for the public deployment of autonomous vehicles.

Upon release, The Washington Post observed that the draft regulations “offer[ed] an early window into how regulators will address safety and privacy concerns surrounding the emerging technology.”

According to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, “[t]he 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.”

Highlights of the draft regulations, which would impose obligations on autonomous vehicle manufacturers and operators alike, include the following requirements:
• Manufacturers will certify compliance with specific autonomous vehicle safety and performance requirements, and a third-party testing organization will conduct a vehicle demonstration test to provide an independent performance verification of the vehicle.
• A licensed operator must be present inside the vehicle and be capable of taking control in the event of a technology failure or other emergency.
• Manufacturers will be approved for a three-year deployment permit, which will require them to regularly report on the performance, safety, and usage of autonomous vehicles.
• Manufacturers must disclose to the operator if information is collected, other than the information needed to safely operate the vehicle.

The regulations remain in a draft stage, but nevertheless represent an important step toward allowing the public to operate self-driving cars on California roadways.

“We want to get public input on these draft regulations before we initiate the formal regulatory rule making process,” said Shiomoto.

In an emailed statement Google spokesman Johnny Luu expressed the tech giant’s disappointment with the regulations, which, according to Luu, restricted the use of driverless cars:

In developing vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button, we’re hoping to transform mobility for millions of people, whether by reducing the 94% of accidents caused by human error or bringing everyday destinations within reach of those who might otherwise be excluded by their inability to drive a car . . . [s]afety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this. We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here.

A segment on a recent broadcast of NPR’s All Things Considered addressed the draft regulations, which were subjected to public comment during two sessions on January 28, 2016 and February 2, 2016.

Interviewee Brian Soublet, deputy director and chief legal counsel for the California DMV, addressed the concerns of the DMV, and society at large:

We’re concerned about how safe the [autonomous] vehicles are. Could the vehicles operate in all the various weather conditions that we’re used to? Will the sensors be able to detect the changes in the road surfaces? What would happen if there was an emergency failure of the autonomous technology? What would the vehicle be able to do? Will they obey all of the traffic laws? Who would have liability exposure if there was an accident?

Mr. Soublet also discussed the Department’s proposed regulation that self-driving cars always have a licensed driver inside, observing that “the person is the backup to the automated system[]” and that “[t]here has to be some contemplation of how the vehicle would be controlled [in the event of technology failure] so it doesn’t become a danger to other motorists.”
The friction between the regulator (DMV) and innovator (Google) is predictable, suggesting that the “public deployment” of autonomous vehicles will happen incrementally, one small step at a time.

Stayed tuned to our blog as William Mattar Law Offices tracks the status of the California DMV’s draft regulations, including whether public input prompts any changes.