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Automated Driving 3 min read

The regulatory road to bringing self-driving cars to the public

The regulatory road to bringing self-driving cars to the public

Tech companies and the automotive industry alike have the pedal to the metal in the race to bring self-driving cars to the public. Now legislators are working hard to put the necessary regulations in place.

Last week in Sacramento, California, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) held a workshop to review draft regulations for autonomous vehicles on public roads. Brian Soublet, chief counsel for the department, managed the session and fielded input from manufacturers, public advocacy groups and research organizations. There was no shortage of opinions about the need for urgency in accelerating (or decelerating, in the view of some parties) the widespread availability of self-driving technology.

These regulations are intended to be the second set of legislation in California that seeks to establish vehicle requirements, safety certification and equipment performance standards for autonomous vehicles. The first set pertained to the testing phase of autonomous vehicles and was quickly approved in 2014. Yet establishing standards for the deployment of this technology has been contested for over a year, and there is still significant ground to cover before rules are enacted.

The regulations are particularly important for California. Currently four U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles: California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada. According to the California DMV, 11 manufacturers hold permits to test autonomous vehicles in the state.

At the workshop, there were four key topics up for discussion:

1) safety certifications and third-party vehicle testing;

2) whether a licensed driver is required behind the wheel;

3) vehicle deployment permits and reporting;

and 4) privacy and cybersecurity issues.

The discussion revealed not only how quickly the development of this technology has been moving, but also how much still needs to be defined. Even basic vocabulary, such as, should we be saying “autonomous vehicle” or “automated vehicle”? And should each level of automation have its own legislation? Advocates also raised concerns about having state-by-state rules, which would make interstate travel difficult.

Many industry leaders, including our own John Ristevski, have underscored that the biggest hurdle to adoption of self-driving cars is not the technology, but the regulatory component.

It looks as though the California DMV has a challenging road ahead to protect the public without stifling innovation, but collaboration between public and private interests is moving in the right direction. Two weeks ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took steps to accelerate autonomous vehicle adoption, with a safety pact involving 18 auto companies.

Mark Rosekind, the agency’s head, said: "NHTSA is truly successful not when we catch safety violations and hand down penalties, but when we work together with industry to prevent that kind of crisis from ever occurring in the first place."

You can read the proposed regulations here and, if you want to share your thoughts on the draft legislation,  email the DMV at

Gwennie Poor

Gwennie Poor

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