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California’s Autonomous Vehicle Testing and Regulations

Many people are excited about the future of driverless cars, also known as autonomous vehicles. While potential buyers and users may express excitement at what the future has to offer, those tasked with assuring that safety is taken into account take a more thoughtful approach to the matter.  As companies like Google, Uber, and others test the technology on public roadways, state governments must assure that people are safe both during the testing phase and indefinitely thereafter.

Major automakers like Mercedes, Tesla, Ford and more are all testing out autonomous driving capabilities on some of their models. This imposes responsibility on the automaker to makes sure that owners of their cars understand how and how not to use the technology. There is also an imposes responsibility on government officials to outline how and how not to use the technology based on available data from preliminary testing. In California where some of the first tests of driverless cars were executed, state officials continue to conduct reviews and launch revisions on the guidelines associated with this matter.

Defining Autonomous Vehicles

Before we start to get into the laws surrounding autonomous vehicle testing, it is important to define how autonomous is defined by the California DMV:

Autonomous technology on a vehicle encompasses any vehicle that can continue operating without the need for physical driver controls or monitoring from a driver directly. These types of vehicles are often equipped with specialty controls that can handle everything from the braking systems, blind spot monitoring, collision avoidance, Lane assist, traffic jam assists, lane keep assists and more.

In most cases, vehicle safeguards do not allow for a time control without someone sitting in the seat ready to take control in case of an emergency. Additionally, autonomous technology must be constructed by an approved vehicle manufacturer or installer of this type of technology with experience converting a regular vehicle into an autonomous one.

Testing Driverless Cars in the Golden State

To use any type of autonomous controls in California for the purpose of testing, specific insurance is required as well as completion of an application to operate autonomous vehicles. These regulations are put in place to ensure that any type of autonomous vehicle development and testing is handled by someone who is appropriately qualified to do so.

The DMV issued approval for a number of autonomous vehicle makers operating in California. Major manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Google, Tesla, Ford, Nissan and future company, Bosch, and more are able to publicly test their vehicles on the roads with vehicle testing permits. These types of permits will not be needed by the public to operate vehicles they purchase with this integrated technology.

Companies testing autonomous technology will further be required to provide reports under existing regulations. One such report is the Traffic Accident Involving an Autonomous Vehicle which discloses information regarding crashes involving autonomous vehicles being tested on public roadways. There are also Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports which report instances where AV technology was overridden, or disengaged, resulting in a driver taking over. Such instances will include things like failure of the AV technology to act to avoid crashing with an object it is approaching.

A Future to Invest In

While these testing regulations may come off as a way to stifle this emerging technology, the goal is the opposite. Investment in the proper testing, development, and deployment of autonomous vehicle technology is sure to speed up its popularity in the market in many ways. One of those ways is to firmly establish the increased safety of driverless cars with the data collected from testing periods. Although not yet concluded, current models are pointing toward less crashes and consequently less property damage, injury, and death as the use of this technology becomes more and more common. The most dangerous form of transportation is known to be driving. Any technology that can help fix that problem is something to be invested in. Furthermore, a growth the demand for autonomous technology can support an increase in the number of high level jobs associated with every aspect of the testing, development, and deployment of it.

Of course, this is not to say that the technology does not come with its drawbacks. One point of contention is how it will be able to handle difficult decisions. An example would be an impending crash where, regardless of the direction chosen, injury or casualty is likely to occur. If to one side there are 2 or 3 pedestrians crossing the street that would be directly struck and to the other a brick wall where the vehicle driver is sure to sustain injury upon impact, what choice would the autonomous vehicle make?  Save the pedestrians or save (its) driver? Testing may not necessarily solve this particular issue getting ready for the future by doing so is sure to benefit everyone.

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