Free-market groups warn California DMV not to derail self-driving cars

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (April 25, 2017) – The R Street Institute joined today with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, TechFreedom and the International Center for Law and Economics is calling on the California Department of Motor Vehicles to amend proposed regulations of autonomous vehicles that could do serious damage to the nascent technology.

In public comments filed with DMV Chief Counsel Brian G. Soublet, the coalition draws attention to how the rules would treat data collection, liability, insurance and oversight, in addition to highlighting three primary areas where the groups feel the proposed rules could harm innovation and consumer safety.

“More than 40,000 Americans were killed on the nation’s roadways last year. Hundreds of thousands more were hurt,” R Street Senior Fellow Ian Adams said. “If regulated in ways that allow them to reach their full potential, autonomous vehicles will put us on the road to the smarter and safer streets that will see those numbers plummet.”

The most harmful of the new rules is a requirement that would force manufacturers to delay for six months any updates to an autonomous vehicle’s software or hardware that “materially changes” how it behaves. This would slow progress in exactly the kinds of rapid safety updates that represent self-driving cars’ greatest potential benefit to consumers. The coalition asks that companies be able to deploy updates they file with regulators unless or until there’s a justifiable reason to disallow them.

In their comments, the free-market groups also raise concerns about the DMV’s insistence that “local authorities”—a term the proposed rules never defines—play an active role in autonomous-vehicle testing. With 4,435 local authorities across California, the requirement that manufacturers “notify and coordinate” with such authorities before testing or deploying their vehicles would amount to allowing local governments to inhibit innovation. The coalition recommends the DMV seek statewide preemption authority, as has been done in other states.

The comments also caution that the proposed rules would transform certain voluntary federal guidelines offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into binding state law, in addition to promulgating amorphous and technical safety standards that the DMV lacks the expertise to enforce. The groups recommend the department take a more humble role and defer to the federal government on matters of vehicle safety.

“We are pleased to offer constructive criticism, along with definite recommendations, to the state’s regulator of autonomous vehicles. They have a challenging task before them that will require their continued commitment to transparency and collaboration,” Adams said.

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