After initial publication of its proposed regulations for autonomous vehicles in March, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) released on Wednesday revised regulations that officials say will likely become effective by June 2018.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group called for the California regulations to be strengthened before they take effect and said the DMV should also immediately begin a rulemaking to enact regulations covering the testing of self-driving robot trucks. Manufacturers would still need to receive approval or a waiver for exemption from the federal government before operating a vehicle on public roads without a human driver or conventional controls like a steering wheel or pedals.
"The new California DMV proposal wrongly relies on the federal government, when there are absolutely no Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards applying specifically to autonomous vehicle technology", John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, said in a press release.
"Responsibility for motor vehicle safety resides at the federal level", said Brian Soublet, the DMV's chief lawyer. The department is seeking public comment until October 25.
However, federal rules are in flux, with Congress now working to hammer out autonomous-driving regulations.
The federal law could entirely preempt states' rights to enact their own self-driving rules, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of SC law professor affiliated with Stanford's Center for Internet and Society.
The DMV said the draft rules, allowing fully computer-controlled driver-free vehicles onto Cali's public roads for the first time, are part of an effort by the state to keep up with the technological advances made by manufacturers and developers.
The bill still has to secure a vote in the Senate, though it appears on track to pass. The new regulations should be in force sometime next year, although it may take a while after for companies to build out fully autonomous cars that comply with the new regulations.
Some consumer advocates had a different take.
"DMV's initial self-driving testing rules set a high standard for the nation, demonstrating that thoughtful regulation and safety protection go hand-in-hand with innovation", said Simpson. He noted that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's recent "Vision for Safety 2.0" autonomous-car guidelines stress that they are completely voluntary.
Specific changes include, specifying local notifications on planned driverless testing, developing a template for how to report when a driver has disengaged autonomous modes, and identifying concerns that "would trigger an amended driverless testing or deployment applications to the DMV".
He notes, "I think a reasonable guesstimate might be that some manufacturer might be ready to commercially deploy some significant number of (autonomous vehicles) in two to five years".