Autonomous Vehicle Developers Warm to Latest DMV Rules

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California’s Department of Motor Vehicles on Monday closed the public comment period on its proposed testing and deployment rules for driverless cars.

On Tuesday it opened the doors to a public hearing on those rules. Dozens of manufacturers, software developers, insurers and interested residents showed up.

Here are four takeaways based on some of their comments:

Manufacturers like the latest round of regulations better than the last round.

The DMV abandoned requirements that manufacturers said effectively codified voluntary federal guidance on safety measures. The new rules also removed the need for companies to obtain permission from cities and counties where they test. And they open the door for testing vehicles that do not have a driver inside.

“The DMV’s proposed revisions to California’s draft regulations address a number of elements released in September of 2016 that would have precluded self-driving cars from being tested and deployed in California,” said David Strickland, a Venable partner and counsel to the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets.

But manufacturers still want to see more changes to the rules.

Paul Hemmersbaugh, former chief counsel at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and now chief counsel and public policy director at General Motors, said operators should be allowed to make certain significant changes to their vehicles immediately without triggering a 180-day administrative review by the DMV.

“Such a revision would allow life-saving technology to reach the public faster and avoid successive 180-day delays in the delivery of that technology,” Hemmersbaugh said.

Other manufacturers want the DMV regulations to cover vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds, not just passenger cars and trucks. Uber’s Otto, for example, is already testing autonomous big rigs on public roads. Ford Motor Co. would like to test shuttle buses.

“We support the DMV’s goal of protecting public safety and suggest this might be achieved by allowing the testing and deployment of such vehicles,” Andre Welch, the manager for global business process at Ford, told the DMV panel Tuesday.

Brian Soublet, DMV’s general counsel, said autonomous, large commercial vehicles would be the subject of a second rule sometime in the future.

Additionally, Waymo wants more specific language authorizing truly driverless cars.

“Without this clarifying language we believe that some of those requirements in [two sections of the rules] would not be appropriate for a car without a driver,” Ron Medford, director of safety at Waymo, said.

It’s all about the data. Just ask the insurers.

Insurers want rule changes that would guarantee them access to certain bits of autonomous vehicle information as part of their underwriting system.

“We at a minimum need vehicle specific data on the basis of year, make and model,” said Katherine Pettibone, Western region vice president for state affairs for the American Insurance Association. “Providing access to this data will help insurers play their role.”

Santa Monica, California-based Consumer Watchdog would go even further. John Simpson, the organization’s privacy project director, said the rules should require that any technical data and video associated with the crash of an autonomous vehicle be posted online.

“People have a right to know what is happening when public roads are being used as private laboratories,” Simpson wrote.

Driverless car developers see data differently.

In testimony Tuesday, they said consumer privacy issues should be left to other agencies. The rules should instead focus on shielding company trade secrets from competitors or the public.

“Information privacy we believe is outside the expertise of the DMV,” Waymo's Medford said. “To the extent the DMV has authority to regulate information privacy in this context it should be limited to require manufacturers to provide a privacy policy, which governs information collected about the passengers and how it will be used.

What about transportation network companies like Uber?

The latest rules draft allows passengers to ride in test autonomous vehicles so long as “there are no fees charged to the passenger or compensation received by the manufacturer.”

Matthew Burton, a legal director for Uber’s regulatory development division, said Tuesday that this rule should change.

Existing testing regulations are “adequate for all manufacturer operations using a trained driver regardless of whether passengers are transported and regardless of whether those passengers pay a fee,” he said.

“Paying riders are more likely to compare their experience to similar rides in conventional vehicles and give constructive feedback based on that comparison,” Burton said. “Rather than just offering test trips to early tech adopters and aficionados, testing companies can offer transportation to real people on rides they would take in their regular daily activities.”

The DMV will now review the submitted comments. Any changes to the rules will be subject to a 15-day comment period. The final product will be submitted to the Office of Administrative Law for approval.

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