If A Driverless Car Runs A Red Light, Who’s To Blame?

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Sacramento — State regulators are wadding through complex questions on how to prepare California roadways for computer-driven car technology – from self-parking features to traffic jam autopilot to completely driverless vehicles.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles held a public workshop Tuesday in Sacramento to hear from some of the major companies testing self-driving vehicles, including Google, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, as the state develops safety standards for the technology.

Two years ago, California became the third state to give driverless vehicles the green light, with state law requiring the DMV to establish and enforce safety regulations for the manufacture and use of self-driving vehicles. Those regulations must be adopted by January 2015.

"Other than Nevada, we are probably the one farthest along in developing regulations," said Brian Soublet, assistant chief counsel at the DMV. "Others are looking to what we are doing."

The DMV expects newly drafted regulations to be in place in the fall for companies to apply to test driverless capabilities on public roads. Companies are currently allowed to test-drive self-driving cars, but must adhere to the new regulations once in place, Soublet said.

On Tuesday, the DMV workshop focused on how to regulate the driverless vehicles when they begin to be sold and operated on public roads as early as next year.

Practical questions were raised during the workshop surrounding the operation of driverless vehicles:

— Should the cars be required to have markings indicating their autonomous capabilities?

— Who certifies the vehicle is safe?

— Should a separate driver's license be required?

— Who receives a ticket in incidences where a driverless car runs a red light?

Soublet said the technology is moving fast and it's hard to gauge where it's headed. He said he's heard from the public regarding the technology's potential to help people with disabilities live more independent lives.

"The promise is that by 2020 there might be vehicles that a blind person can operate," he said. "The question is whether it's safe to do that."

John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog said he is concerned that the car technology needs privacy protections to thwart the potential for abuse.

"Consumer Watchdog supports safe driverless car technology and predicts it will be commonplace sooner than many of us expect however, it must not be allowed to become just another way to track us in our daily lives," Simpson said.

Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez


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