The California Department of Motor Vehicles’ second round of draft regulations on testing and deploying autonomous vehicles are better than the iteration the department previously introduced last December, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

That was the point R Street emphasized in joint public comments we submitted to DMV General Counsel Brian Soublet with TechFreedom, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the International Center for Law & Economics. The comments address several areas ripe for re-evaluation:

  • Spheres of authority – As currently constructed, California’s draft regulations blur the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recommended distinction between federal and state areas of authority by reserving for states the ability to assess compliance with the federal agency’s explicitly voluntary safety guidelines. In doing so, the DMV risks usurping federal authority, charging itself with a task for which it lacks expertise. The rules also would make federal safety guidance that has not gone through the vital “notice and comment” rulemaking process mandatory. Our comments recommend exercising restraint in this area as the federal regulatory landscape unfolds.
  • Data and information privacy – The DMV’s approach to protecting operators’ privacy is likely to stifle development of highly automated vehicles. The coalition suggests a different approach, largely following the framework used by the Federal Trade Commission, which holds that consent to share data should be required only where it cannot be inferred from the nature of the transaction itself and only when sensitive and personally identifiable data are involved. The comments include a chart delineating a situationally based spectrum of consent and disclosure requirements.
  • Local authorities – The DMV’s draft regulations currently envision a robust role for local authorities in permitting and testing highly automated vehicles. Such an approach could prove hugely problematic if it serves to limit the circumstances under which new technologies can be tested. The requirement is also so vague as to make it virtually impossible to comply. The coalition offers three solutions to this problem.
  • Advertising prohibition – To ensure that operators aren’t confused about the nature of the technology they are using, the draft regulations seek to constrain use of the term “autonomous” to very specific instances. The coalition suggests such a requirement is unneeded in light of a consumer education requirement and that it’s unduly broad in its application to vehicle subsystems.
  • Definitional confusion – On the same day the DMV released its draft regulations, the Society of Automotive Engineers released updated standards for the taxonomy of automated driving. The DMV will need to re-evaluate its compliance with SAE’s latest taxonomy, including all 189 instances that “autonomous vehicles” are mentioned and all 21 times that “control” is mentioned.
  • Insurance – The draft regulations include inconsistent guidance between two sections concerning the availability of insurance products from surplus lines carriers. Our comments recommend a simple update to conform the two sections to one another.

We hope the DMV will seriously consider each of our recommendations. The upsides of this technology and the transformative societal impact that it could have must not be delayed.

Image by Karsten Neglia