California has become one of the top states for autonomous car research, primarily due to the number of tech firms based there including Google which is already testing self-driving cars on the state’s roads. However, state regulators are now making moves to tighten the rules for autonomous cars, including potentially banning them from traveling without a human driver onboard.
Under new proposals being drafted by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, all autonomous cars would require a steering wheel and pedals plus a capable, licensed-driver behind the wheel to take control should something go wrong. The proposals provide a view of how some regulators are preparing for autonomous cars once the technology is ready for production.
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Such rules would end up negating some of the biggest benefits self-driving cars could deliver, such as providing flexible mobility for the elderly and vision impaired as well as reducing congestion via greater use of car sharing. For instance, a family could rely on one car, with the car returning home alone after making a drop-off to then pick up the next user.
However, tighter rules are logical at this early stage given the potential unknown reliability of the technology and level of proficiency at handling the various situations that can arise on public roads, especially when there are other, human drivers around.
In a statement made to Automotive News (subscription required), Google said it was “gravely disappointed” that California is looking at limiting the potential of autonomous car capability. It’s likely such proposals will also slow the development of self-driving cars as well as force researchers to move to more welcoming states such as Nevada and Texas.
It comes at a time when Google is thought to be making its autonomous car unit a standalone business under its Alphabet umbrella. People familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that the business would be a taxi-like service without an actual human driver and would most likely start in confined areas such as college or corporate campuses or a military base.
Further debate on the new proposals is due to take place early next year.