DMV to adopt new proposed regulations for highly autonomous vehicles

Published on


On April 25, 2017 the Department of Motor Vehicles will hold a public hearing in Sacramento for comments on its new proposed regulations for testing and deployment of highly autonomous vehicles (“HAV”) on California roadways. The hearing will happen just one month before the National Highway Safety Administration holds its workshop on June 28, 2017, in Washington D.C., to examine the consumer privacy and security issues posed by automated and “connected” vehicles. The DMV’s new proposed regulations include a requirement that HAVs without a driver be monitored remotely by a person able to take control of the car in case of an emergency. NHTSA’s June workshop should provide insight on the extent to which California’s proposal for “remote” control capabilities of HAV test vehicles lines up with the NHTSA’s vision for the driverless car future.

California leads the nation in the testing of driverless cars with 27 companies currently holding autonomous vehicle testing permits. So it was welcome news when the DMV revised its much criticized 2015 proposed regulations in September 2016 to be more friendly to this rapidly developing technology. After receiving feedback from manufacturers, consumers, local governments, insurance companies and other stakeholders, the DMV has further expanded its September 2016 draft regulations and arrived at what it hopes will be a comprehensive regulatory framework which will help maintain California's role as a leader in the autonomous car industry and keep pace with the driverless car friendly federal policies and guidelines endorsed by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.

The revised proposed regulations released on March 10, 2017, are designed to allow testing and future deployment of fully driverless cars on California roadways. The proposed regulations, which define the driverless cars as highly automated vehicles or HAVs, expand on the DMV’s proposed draft regulations released last September and are vastly more open to the quickly developing driverless car technology than the regulations previously proposed by the DMV in December of 2015.

The DMV’s 2015 proposed regulations were widely criticized for not being forward looking enough as they required that all “driverless” cars have a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, a licensed driver in the driver’s seat, and a method for disengaging the “autonomous” features such that a driver could take over control of the car in case of emergency, among other requirements. Many industry insiders saw the requirements for steering wheels and gas and brake pedals as antiquated impediments to the rapidly developing driverless technology and the requirement that a driver be able to take over in case of emergency as potentially increasing the risk of accidents. The old proposed regulations also met with surprisingly vocal resistance from the disabled and other driving impaired groups who saw the proposed requirement that a licensed driver be in the car as a barrier to their access to the new mobility the technology is anticipated to provide for people unable to obtain a driver’s license.

With the combination of public outcry, business pressures from companies like Google moving their testing of driverless cars to more regulatory friendly states, and the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration championing of the new technology, the latest move signals the DMV has come around to embrace the future of fully driverless cars. While the DMV’s new proposed regulations are still more strict than many of the other states which allow testing of fully driverless cars on their roadways, they clearly anticipate fully driverless cars on California roadways in the near future and appear industry friendly enough that companies that already have a significant presence in California will plan to keep testing fully driverless cars in California.

Among the highlights of the new proposed regulations are the removal of any requirement that an autonomous vehicle have a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, or human driver capable of taking over control in the event of an emergency. New is a requirement that the driverless car be monitored remotely, including the ability for the remote operator to take over control of the car in the event of an emergency. Also new is a requirement that all driverless cars be equipped with a “black box” that will record and save data from 30 seconds prior to any accident through 5 seconds after any accident or until the vehicle comes to a complete stop, which ever comes first.

The proposed regulations also make several references to compliance and consistency with NHTSA’s guidelines and policies and federal regulations on driverless cars, an acknowledgement of both NHTSA’s bullishness on the technology and recognition that an efficient rollout of driverless cars is going to require consistent regulations across state borders.

Following the public hearing for comment on April 25, 2017, the DMV will complete the formal rulemaking process and deliver the final regulations to the Office of Administrative Law for approval, which is expected to happen by the end of the year. We will continue to monitor these developments and post additional updates from time to time. So continue to watch our website for updates.