California Wants to Ban Google’s Self-Driving Car

The California DMV wants to make it illegal to operate a self-driving car without a specially-licensed driver on board and ready to take control.


Be careful what you wish for. The California DMV released its proposed regulations for the operation of robocars. All of this sprang from Google’s request to states that they start writing such regulations to ensure that their cars were legal, and California’s DMV took much longer than expected to release these regulations, which Google found quite upsetting.

The testing regulations did not bother too many, though I am upset that they effectively forbid the testing of delivery robots like the ones we are making at Starship because the test vehicles must have a human safety driver with a physical steering system. Requiring that driver makes sense for passenger cars but is impossible for a robot the size of breadbox.

Needing a Driver

The draft operating rules effectively forbid Google’s current plan, making it illegal to operate a vehicle without a licensed and specially-certified driver on board and ready to take control. Google’s research led them to feel that having a transition between human driver and software is dangerous, and that the right choice is a vehicle with no controls for humans. Most car companies, on the other hand, are attempting to build “co-pilot” or “autopilot” systems in which the human still plays a fundamental role.

The state proposes banning Google-style vehicles for now, and drafting regulations on them in the future. Unfortunately, once something is banned, it is remarkably difficult to un-ban it. That’s because nobody wants to be the regulator or politician who un-bans something that later causes harm that can be blamed on them. And these vehicles will cause harm, just less harm than the people currently driving are doing.

Will Google Turn to Texas?

California’s proposed regulations might hurt innovation in The Golden State, but it appears to be a win for Texas. Austin, Texas is the only place where Google is testing its self-driving cars outside California.

A spokesman for Austin Mayor Steve Adler has already said the city is “thrilled” to host to such innovations and says local leaders believe self-driving vehicles are safe.

The law forbids unmanned operation, and requires the driver/operator to be “monitoring the safe operation of the vehicle at all times and be capable of taking over immediate control.” This sounds like it certainly forbids sleeping, and might even forbid engrossing activities like reading, working or watching movies.

Special Certificate

Drivers must not just have a license, they must have a certificate showing they are trained in operation of a robocar. On the surface, that sounds reasonable, especially since the hand-off has dangers which training could reduce. But in practice, it could mean a number of unintended things:

  • Rental or even borrowing of such vehicles becomes impossible without a lot of preparation and some paperwork by the person trying it out.
  • Out of state renters may face a particular problem as they can’t have California licences. (Interstate law may, bizarrely, let them get by without the certificate while Californians would be subject to this rule.)
  • Car sharing or delivered car services (like my “whistlecar” concept or Mercedes Car2Come) become difficult unless sharers get the certificate.
  • The operator is responsible for all traffic violations, even though several companies have said they will take responsibility. They can take financial responsibility, but can’t help you with points on your licence or criminal liability, rare as that is. People will be reluctant to assume that responsibility for things that are the fault of the software in the car they use, as they have little ability to judge that software.

No Self-Driving Taxis

With no robotaxis or unmanned operation, a large fraction of the public benefits of robocars are blocked. All that’s left is the safety benefit for car owners. This is not a minor thing, but it’s a small a part of the whole game (and active safety systems can attain a fair chunk of it in non-robocars.)

The state says it will write regulations for proper robocars, able to run unmanned. But it doesn’t say when those will arrive, and unfortunately, any promises about that will be dubious and non-binding. The state was very late with these regulations, which is actually perfectly understandable, since not even vendors know the final form of the technology, and it may well be late again. Unfortunately, there are political incentives for delay, perhaps indeterminate delay.

California’s Self-Driving Car Regulations

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This means vendors will be uncertain. They may know that someday they can operate in California, but they can’t plan for it. With other states and countries around the world chomping at the bit to get vendors to move their operations, it will be difficult for companies to choose California, even though today most of them have.

People already in California will continue their R&D in California, because it’s expensive to move such things, and Silicon Valley retains its attractions as the high-tech capital of the world. But they will start making plans for first operation outside California, in places that have an assured timetable.

It will be less likely that somebody would move operations to California because of the uncertainty. Why start a project here - which in spite of its advantages is also the most expensive place to operate - without knowing when you can deploy here. And people want to deploy close to home if they have the option.

It might be that the car companies, whose prime focus is on co-pilot or autopilot systems today, may not be bothered by this uncertainty. In fact, it’s good for their simpler early goals because it slows the competition down. But most of them have also announced plans for real self-driving robocars where you can act just like a passenger. Their teams all want to build them. They might enjoy a breather, but in the end, they don’t want these regulations either.

And yes, it means that delivery robots won’t be able to go on the roads, and must stick to the sidewalks. That’s the primary plan at Starship today, but not the forever plan.

California should, after receiving comment, alter these regulations. They should allow unmanned vehicles which meet appropriate functional safety goals to operate, and they should have a real calendar date when this is going to happen. If they don’t, they won’t be helping to protect Californians. They will take California from being the envy of the world as the place that has attracted robocar development from all around the planet to just another contender. And that won’t just cost jobs, it will delay the deployment in California of a technology that will save the lives of Californians.

I don’t want to pretend that deploying full robocars is without risk. Quite the reverse, people will be hurt. But people are already being hurt, and the strategy of taking no risk is the wrong one.

This article was republished with permission from Brad Templeton’s Robocars Blog.




About the Author

Brad Templeton · Brad Templeton is a developer of and commentator on self-driving cars. He writes and researches the future of automated transportation at Robocars.com.
Contact Brad Templeton: 4brad@templetons.com  ·  View More by Brad Templeton.
Follow Brad on Twitter.



Comments

Totally_Lost · December 27, 2015 · 1:41 pm

I’ve not read all the reports .... actually didn’t even know they were online until searching for them a few minutes ago. What I do know, is that with twice the mileage that Google AV’s have racked up, I’ve been hit from the rear 1/5th as much reflecting a 10 to 1 higher experience of read ends. And this is not just a matter of not being reported. So I’ve had some doubt that it’s just human drivers being at fault. I think a few other people have similar doubts too, that it’s more like driving styles that may not mix well.

http://techcrunch.com/2015/10/09/dont-blame-the-robot-drivers/#.5y0upb2:Xsgk

At least one of the accidents has been because the Google AV started moving leading the driver behind to expect the car in front of them was going to complete a turn, and didn’t. As a driver we multi-task, which includes watching the car in front of us, plus changing our focus and attention to other traffic as part of both defensive scanning, and look both ways preparing for turns. The Nov 15th 2015 report suggests the other driver may have gotten trapped by that, assuming the Google AV was actually going to complete the turn once it started moving.

https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/a35d0b74-02dc-4725-9a5f-cc4ac71e421b/Google+Auto+LLC+11.02.15.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

As for Google AV’s NEV status, maybe it’s better to keep them isolated to single lane residential areas that are mostly posted 25mph or slower.  There is always the question of what is technically legal to do, and what is right/smart to do.

I personally question what other accidents may have occurred from AV actions, where the AV wasn’t physically involved, so it wasn’t part of the report. Especially where there is a 10mph or greater speed differential with prevailing traffic.

Brad Templeton · December 19, 2015 · 3:19 pm

Google’s 3rd gen vehicles are classified as “NEVs” and as such are limited by law to 25mph and are allowed to travel on roads with limits up to 35mph.  If the regulators want to declare that driving 25mph on a 35mph limit road is dangerous or inappropriate, they could change those regulations.  Google’s own analysis of their accidents, done with an eye to examining whether something about their car or its behaviour was leading to the accidents, concluded there was no evidence for this, and that the most likely explanation is that human drivers also have this level of accidents, but since most of them are no-damage bumper touches, they are simply not reported and thus not in the statistics.

My own reading of Google’s accident reports certainly suggests that low speeds played no role. Many of the accidents took place while Google’s vehicle was stopped at an intersection like any car would be, not because it was going 25mph on a 35mph road.  Can you point to a single accident in their logs which might be the result of this slow driving?  If not, what led to the conclusions above?

Google’s 2nd generation cars which are very active on the roads do travel at the speed of other traffic, they are not limited to 25mph by the NEV regulations as they are ordinary Lexus SUVs.

Totally_Lost · December 18, 2015 · 1:05 pm

Brad ... you get this part ” And these vehicles will cause harm, just less harm than the people currently driving are doing.” of this wrong.

Currently compared to human drivers, the Google car get’s into far more rear end accidents by driving 10-15mph below the speed of traffic. As I’ve stated in this forum before on one of Steve’s articles, that is known to statistically cause more accidents, and will sooner, or later, also cause deaths. Now Google might like to down play that by asserting they were never cited for an accident, it really is time for Calif law officers to start citing them for impeding traffic, so that when they are involved in an accident, their insurance rightfully picks up a portion of the costs for the accidents they cause by driving way too slow.

Frankly, Google should be required to keep the car on a test track until they can safely drive the prevailing traffic speed of 35-45mph .... and not be capped at 25mph.

25mph is really not much different than 5mph with current technology ... a REAL self driving car is one that will operate on city streets posted at 45-50mph, and safely drive the prevailing traffic speeds of 45-55mph.

————————————————- From Nov 13th .....———————————————————————————————

Steve, I was looking more at the google trend (1.2M miles, 25mph, 14 accidents, 11 rear ends) and reflecting on my own driving experience (53 years, 2.6M miles, up to 80mph, 7 accidents, 2 rear ends while stopped) which include first hand experience with drivers significantly slower than traffic setting up, and SIGNIFICANTLY contributing to, “accidents”.

This is not just simple observation, and uncorrelated without statistical basis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_curve

http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leon/409as010/albano/albano-report1.htm
“Dr James also cites in his book that federal studies have found that drivers going 10 to 15 miles per hour faster have very low accident rates. Those who travel 20 to 25 miles per hour faster are pretty much on par, in terms of car accident rates, when compared to drivers following speed limits. The drivers that cause the most accidents are those travelling 10 or more under the speed limit and those that travel at 30 or more. Looking at these findings, you can say that “speed variance” plays a more important role than cars that are just “speeding.” Speeding becomes dangerous when a driver’s speed does not match with the speed norms set by the drivers around him”


Totally_Lost · December 18, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Brad ... you get this part ” And these vehicles will cause harm, just less harm than the people currently driving are doing.” of this wrong.

Currently compared to human drivers, the Google car get’s into far more rear end accidents by driving 10-15mph below the speed of traffic. As I’ve stated in this forum before on one of Steve’s articles, that is known to statistically cause more accidents, and will sooner, or later, also cause deaths. Now Google might like to down play that by asserting they were never cited for an accident, it really is time for Calif law officers to start citing them for impeding traffic, so that when they are involved in an accident, their insurance rightfully picks up a portion of the costs for the accidents they cause by driving way too slow.

Frankly, Google should be required to keep the car on a test track until they can safely drive the prevailing traffic speed of 35-45mph .... and not be capped at 25mph.

25mph is really not much different than 5mph with current technology ... a REAL self driving car is one that will operate on city streets posted at 45-50mph, and safely drive the prevailing traffic speeds of 45-55mph.

————————————————- From Nov 13th .....———————————————————————————————

Steve, I was looking more at the google trend (1.2M miles, 25mph, 14 accidents, 11 rear ends) and reflecting on my own driving experience (53 years, 2.6M miles, up to 80mph, 7 accidents, 2 rear ends while stopped) which include first hand experience with drivers significantly slower than traffic setting up, and SIGNIFICANTLY contributing to, “accidents”.

This is not just simple observation, and uncorrelated without statistical basis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_curve

http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leon/409as010/albano/albano-report1.htm
“Dr James also cites in his book that federal studies have found that drivers going 10 to 15 miles per hour faster have very low accident rates. Those who travel 20 to 25 miles per hour faster are pretty much on par, in terms of car accident rates, when compared to drivers following speed limits. The drivers that cause the most accidents are those travelling 10 or more under the speed limit and those that travel at 30 or more. Looking at these findings, you can say that “speed variance” plays a more important role than cars that are just “speeding.” Speeding becomes dangerous when a driver’s speed does not match with the speed norms set by the drivers around him”

Brad Templeton · December 19, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Google’s 3rd gen vehicles are classified as “NEVs” and as such are limited by law to 25mph and are allowed to travel on roads with limits up to 35mph.  If the regulators want to declare that driving 25mph on a 35mph limit road is dangerous or inappropriate, they could change those regulations.  Google’s own analysis of their accidents, done with an eye to examining whether something about their car or its behaviour was leading to the accidents, concluded there was no evidence for this, and that the most likely explanation is that human drivers also have this level of accidents, but since most of them are no-damage bumper touches, they are simply not reported and thus not in the statistics.

My own reading of Google’s accident reports certainly suggests that low speeds played no role. Many of the accidents took place while Google’s vehicle was stopped at an intersection like any car would be, not because it was going 25mph on a 35mph road.  Can you point to a single accident in their logs which might be the result of this slow driving?  If not, what led to the conclusions above?

Google’s 2nd generation cars which are very active on the roads do travel at the speed of other traffic, they are not limited to 25mph by the NEV regulations as they are ordinary Lexus SUVs.

Totally_Lost · December 27, 2015 at 1:41 pm

I’ve not read all the reports .... actually didn’t even know they were online until searching for them a few minutes ago. What I do know, is that with twice the mileage that Google AV’s have racked up, I’ve been hit from the rear 1/5th as much reflecting a 10 to 1 higher experience of read ends. And this is not just a matter of not being reported. So I’ve had some doubt that it’s just human drivers being at fault. I think a few other people have similar doubts too, that it’s more like driving styles that may not mix well.

http://techcrunch.com/2015/10/09/dont-blame-the-robot-drivers/#.5y0upb2:Xsgk

At least one of the accidents has been because the Google AV started moving leading the driver behind to expect the car in front of them was going to complete a turn, and didn’t. As a driver we multi-task, which includes watching the car in front of us, plus changing our focus and attention to other traffic as part of both defensive scanning, and look both ways preparing for turns. The Nov 15th 2015 report suggests the other driver may have gotten trapped by that, assuming the Google AV was actually going to complete the turn once it started moving.

https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/a35d0b74-02dc-4725-9a5f-cc4ac71e421b/Google+Auto+LLC+11.02.15.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

As for Google AV’s NEV status, maybe it’s better to keep them isolated to single lane residential areas that are mostly posted 25mph or slower.  There is always the question of what is technically legal to do, and what is right/smart to do.

I personally question what other accidents may have occurred from AV actions, where the AV wasn’t physically involved, so it wasn’t part of the report. Especially where there is a 10mph or greater speed differential with prevailing traffic.


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