California unveils new bill allowing fully-autonomous car testing on streets

California unveils new bill allowing fully-autonomous car testing on streets

    Oct 09, 2016 5:00 PM  PT
California unveils new bill allowing fully-autonomous car testing on streets
author: Claire   

By Claire Pu

As the hub of tech giants and start-ups, and probably the place with the most autonomous cars in the world, California recently signed on off a new bill allowing completely autonomous cars to test-drive in certain districts.

It has been four years since driverless tests were first approved for testing in the state. Now the new bill permits autonomous car trials without a driver inside that can be implemented in two locations. This is specific to a pilot project headed by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. One might point to San Ramon's Bishop Ranch Business Park, where EasyMile's 12-seater shuttles will ferry workers around the site, including travelling on some public roads. And also GoMentum Station has been singled out. This is a proverbial ghost town within the Concord Naval Weapons Station, and the place where Honda has been testing its driverless car technologies.

Recently, Uber-owned Otto also signed up to test self-driving trucks on the site. Google and Apple also expressed strong interest in GoMentum Station, according to the transport authority.

Meanwhile, the new bill doesn't require manual controls -- including a steering wheel and pedals in test vehicles, since there won't be anyone on hand. But considering safety protocols, the cars must not exceed 35 MPH during trials, and should fully comply with the new guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The bill was signed into law on September 29th, 2016. and the next day the California state government also released a revised draft regulation that would allow cars with no driver on a broader scale. If actualized, auto manufacturers will be able to test their completely autonomous cars without a human inside on public roads. However, the regulations would require that a test driver "is actively monitoring the vehicle's operations and capable of taking over immediate physical control" via two-way communication with the vehicle.

Also regarding Tesla's recent fatal accidents, the new draft also addresses the problems with partially autonomous systems (such as lane-assist technology) that are on the market today. Autopilot doesn't equal to "complete autonomous"— California's revised regulations would help ensure that this kind of assisted driving feature isn't falsely advertised. Manufacturers would be prohibited from using the terms "autonomous" or "self-driving" when advertising partially autonomous systems.

California is the pioneering state in advocating self-driving technologies. When other states remain conservative regarding the autonomous car test trials, California has been among the first to approve the testing. The state government also clearly requires manufacturers to be transparent with the public—crash reports should be posted on the Department of Motor Vehicles' website, and companies that test self-driving vehicles must publish an annual report that details any time the technology failed.

Sources Cited: Engadget, ZDNet