The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recently approved rules
that will allow driverless cars to travel on public roads. While these
autonomous vehicles are still in the testing phase, it is time to start
thinking about how our driving laws will need to change.
Autonomous Vehicle Testing Rules, operators must undergo training, which includes “defensive driver
training, including practical experience in recovering from hazardous
driving scenarios” as well as “instruction that matches the
level of the autonomous test vehicle driver’s experience operating
the specific type of automated driving system technology with the level
of technical maturity of the automated system.” Even when they are
not technically “driving,” operators must sit in the driver
seat and be capable of immediately taking control of the vehicle.
Manufacturers must report any type of accident or any situation where the
autonomous technology disengages during operation to the DMV within 10
days. They must also maintain $5 million insurance or surety bond.
The new regulations are a good start, but they only cover the testing of
driverless cars. Because California’s current driving laws are based
on the assumption that there is a human driver behind the wheel, lawmakers
will need to pass new laws or drastically change ones to reflect the new
Below are just a few of the legal questions that will need to be addressed:
- Who is responsible for crashes caused by self-driving cars, the human passenger
or the carmaker?
- Who is liable for traffic violations, such as failing to yield or stop
at a red light, if the vehicle was operating autonomously?
- How will distracted driving laws be applied to “drivers” who
may no longer need to devote their attention to the road?
At least one California agency has started the rulemaking process. The
DMV is currently working on regulations for the public operation of autonomous
vehicles, which are expected to be ready by January 1, 2015.