California DMV takes a ‘self-driving’ news dump


Friday news dumps are a long and proud tradition, and one in which the California Department of Motor Vehicles took part today by releasing its long-awaited “Proposed Driverless Testing and Deployment Regulations.” The filing, made with the California Office of Administrative Law, signals the first official action taken by the department to codify regulations that are now two years behind their legislatively mandated schedule.

Comments on the proposed regulations are due April 24, with a public hearing scheduled for April 25 in Sacramento.

Disappointingly, the proposed rules would still require automakers—as part of their application to operate in California—to file a “safety assessment letter” with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before their vehicles could be deployed on California roads.

This shows there’s still confusion about the nature of the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (FAVP), which was crafted as a voluntary guidance document. Requiring states to certify their compliance with the FAVP’s 15-point safety checklist is something that was never contemplated during the policy’s creation. Neither state nor federal law should force automakers to comply with standards that haven’t gone through notice-and-comment rulemaking.

While California remains confused on the matter, the FAVP’s voluntary nature  should be underscored by NHTSA and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao so that other states do not make similar mistakes.

Some other notable aspects of the proposed regulations include:

  • The proposed regulations include a provision to allow autonomous vehicles to be operated without drivers. This provision is particularly notable in light of the DMV’s original inclination to disallow testing vehicles that lack driver-input mechanisms, like pedals and a steering wheel.
  • The definition of “autonomous mode” has been modified to encompass systems like those operated by Uber – a provision likely spurred by the showdown earlier this year.
  • The regulations’ privacy-sharing provisions have been narrowed and completely reworked, in what is likely a nod to federal supremacy in that area.
  • A requirement that local law enforcement be notified within 24 hours of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle has been removed.
  • Testing permits are now valid for two years, instead of one.
  • The problematic disengagement-reporting requirement also was maintained.

Analysis of these, and all of the other provisions, will appear on R Street in the days to come.


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