Don't call Google for a ride home from the bar yet

19 December 2015 by Steve Blum
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Good news and bad news about self-driving cars from the California department of motor vehicles. The good news is that the DMV will allow cars to drive themselves; the bad news is that you still need to have a licensed driver in the front seat who “must be capable of taking over immediate control in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency”. In other words, no robotic designated drivers.

The restrictions don’t suit Google, which has been in the forefront of developing autonomous cars in California, according to a story in the San Jose Mercury News

“We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here,” said Google spokesman Johnny Luu in a statement.

The DMV left the door open for fully autonomous cars in the future, saying it will address the issue in “subsequent regulatory packages”. And the current version of the rules isn’t final – it’s still in draft form and two public workshops are scheduled for early next year to take public comments.

I’m not particularly worried about the proposed restrictions at this point. The DMV is writing rules based on what self-driving cars can do today. If the DMV doesn’t continually update its regulations to reflect the state of the art as it evolves though, development of self-driving cars will migrate to more nimble states – Google has already moved some development work to Texas. That would be throwing away a once-in-a-century opportunity to become the new center of the automotive universe.

DMV’s summary of the new rules
Draft text of the new rules
Workshop schedule