California changes laws for self-driving cars

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the biggest speedbump that driverless cars will need to navigate their way around, over or under, is legislation. Yes the technology is complicated and the public is always going to be fickle about letting someone (or in this case, some thing) take over from them but it’s the legal system that will throw up real hurdles for the fledgling industry. Fortunately though, it looks like the ball is starting to roll in California, as a registered database of driverless cars has now been created.

Of course this is almost the opposite of law makers accepting the use of automated vehicles out in the wild, as it’s really designed to keep an eye on the car makers that are dabbling with AI driven vehicles. The registry so far has 29 driverless cars on the books, with Google having 25 of them, while Merceds and VW Group of America have two a piece. The search giant’s cars are said to be entirely modified Lexus 4x4s, rather than the small bubble cars we’ve been shown before.

That’s likely to be because as part of this registry, the Californian regulators also mandated that all driverless cars would need to have pedals and a steering wheel, so that in an emergency, a human driver could take over. That seems more likely to be in place to give insurers someone to blame if an accident occurs, but it’s there nonetheless and that means the bubble cars need modification, as they came equipped with just a sat nav and go button.

Other regulations introduced yesterday (though initially decided upon in January this year) include test drivers having perfect driving records and that they must complete strict driver training courses before being given the chance to not-drive the vehicles as part of testing. Similarly, they need to tell their employer if they have any driving incidents outside of the workplace.

Companies also must report to local authorities if the cars ever decide to drop out of autonomous mode for whatever reason. They also need to take out insurance worth at least $5 million per vehicle, in the case of a catastrophic and costly accident.

lexus

Other states have attempted similar legislation, while others still are deliberately keeping everything off the books to encourage companies like Google to invest in the local area. Michigan is one such state, with local officials hoping that it will be chosen as the first pilot state for any large scale autonomous car releases. Audi has been testing vehicles in Florida, because again its laws are quite lax at this time.

Nevada on the other hand has been issuing licences to companies, but it’s still drawing in good numbers of autonomous vehicles for testing.

It’s going to be really interesting to see how the UK handles autonomous vehicles. Certain townships are being offered several million in subsidies if they are willing to host a batch of Google cars, with lawmakers suggesting that the roads will legally be able to have driverless cars on them by early next year.

Do you think we’ll go license heavy, or will it remain a bit of don’t ask don’t tell for a while?

[Thanks TimesOfIndia]

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.