California DMV approves new rules for testing AVs without human drivers on board

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has announced new regulations that will allow the testing and public use of autonomous vehicles (AV) on the state’s roads without a human driver required to be on board.

The Office of Administrative Law has now approved a second set of regulations governing the use of AVs on California roads that establishes rules for testing autonomous technology without a driver, and how manufacturers can allow the public to use self-driving cars. Prior to these new rules, AVs could only be tested in California with an approved driver on board and able to take control of the vehicle at any time. The regulations become effective on April 2, and the DMV can begin issuing new permits on that date. Under state law, the DMV is required to adopt regulations that cover both the testing and deployment of AVs, and the previous rules that required a driver to be behind the steering wheel took effect in September 2014. To date, 50 manufacturers and technology developers have a permit to test AVs in the state with a driver present. Manufacturers can continue to apply for a test permit with a driver.

Under the new regulations, vehicle manufacturers must obtain a driverless testing and/or a deployment permit from the DMV and comply with its requirements, if they wish to either test an AV without a driver, or allow the public to use their autonomous technology. The new ‘Requirements for Driverless Testing’ include:

Certify that the autonomous test vehicle complies with requirements that include a communication link between the vehicle and remote operator, and a process to communicate between the vehicle and law enforcement;

Certify that the autonomous test vehicle is capable of operating without the presence of a driver and meets the Society of Automotive Engineers definitions of a Level 4 or Level 5 AV;

Certify that each operator for remote operations has completed training;

Certify that the vehicle meets current industry standards to defend against, detect and respond to cyberattacks, unauthorized intrusions or false vehicle control commands.

The new regulations do not include testing and deployment of autonomous trucks and other commercial vehicles. The DMV will be collaborating with the California Highway Patrol to begin exploring the unique safety and regulatory considerations associated with these vehicles.

“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” said DMV director Jean Shiomoto. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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