California’s autonomous car law: adoption of standards and requirements first
27 September 2012
The autonomous car bill (SB 1298) approved by California Governor Jerry Brown requires the state Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations as soon as practicable, but no later than 1 January 2015, establishing requirements for the submission of evidence of insurance, surety bond, or self-insurance required by the bill and requirements for the submission or approval of an application to operate an autonomous vehicle, including testing, equipment, or performance standards and to hold public hearings on the adoption of any regulation applicable to the operation of an autonomous vehicle without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle.
“Autonomous vehicle” refers to the use of computers, sensors, and other systems to permit a motor vehicles to operate without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human operator. Autonomous vehicles could offer significant potential safety, mobility, and commercial benefits for individuals and businesses.
Among the provisions:
The bill authorizes the operation of an autonomous vehicle, as defined, on public roads for testing purposes, by a driver who possesses the proper class of license for the type of vehicle being operated if specified requirements are met, including that the driver be seated in the driver’s seat, monitoring the safe operation of the autonomous vehicle, and capable of taking over immediate manual control of the autonomous vehicle in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency.
The bill prohibits, except as provided for testing purposes, the operation of such a vehicle on public roads until the manufacturer submits an application to the department that includes various certifications, including a certification that the autonomous technology satisfies certain requirements, and the application is approved by the department pursuant to the regulations that the department would be required to adopt. Among the requirements are:
- The autonomous vehicle has a mechanism to engage and disengage the autonomous technology that is easily accessible to the operator.
- The autonomous vehicle has a visual indicator inside the cabin to indicate when the autonomous technology is engaged.
- The autonomous vehicle has a system to safely alert the operator if an autonomous technology failure is detected while the autonomous technology is engaged, and when an alert is given, the system shall either require the operator to take control of the autonomous vehicle, or, if the operator does not or is unable to take control of the autonomous vehicle, the autonomous vehicle shall be capable of coming to a complete stop.
- The autonomous vehicle shall allow the operator to take control in multiple manners, including, without limitation, through the use of the brake, the accelerator pedal, or the steering wheel, and it shall alert the operator that the autonomous technology has been disengaged.
- The autonomous vehicle has a separate mechanism, in addition to, and separate from, any other mechanism required by law, to capture and store the autonomous technology sensor data for at least 30 seconds before a collision occurs between the autonomous vehicle and another vehicle, object, or natural person while the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode. The autonomous technology sensor data shall be captured and stored in a read-only format by the mechanism so that the data is retained until extracted from the mechanism by an external device capable of downloading and storing the data. The data shall be preserved for three years after the date of the collision
The bill requires one of the certifications to specify that the autonomous vehicle’s technology meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for the vehicle’s model year and all other applicable safety standards and performance requirements set forth in state and federal law and the regulations promulgated pursuant to those laws.
The bill provides that federal regulations promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) supersede state law or regulation when found to be in conflict.
The bill requires the department to approve an application submitted by a manufacturer upon making specified findings and would authorize the department to impose additional requirements if the application seeks approval for autonomous vehicles where there is no person in the driver’s seat.
The bill also requires the department to notify the Legislature of the receipt of an application from a manufacturer seeking approval to operate an autonomous vehicle capable of operating without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle and the approval of the application. The bill would provide that approval of the application is effective no sooner than 180 days after the date the application is submitted.
The new law permits autonomous vehicles to be operated or tested on the public roads in the state pending the adoption of the required new safety standards and performance requirements.
California currently does not prohibit, nor does it specifically regulate the operation of autonomous vehicles; in August, Google said it had racked up more than 300,000 miles of testing spread among a dozen vehicles under a wide range of traffic conditions— without a single accident under computer control.
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