California Announces Regulations for Autonomous Car Testing


Just as manufacturers and other businesses at the edge of autonomous vehicle technology are announcing advances in the field—including, most recently, Google’s fully-autonomous prototype vehicle, featuring no controls other than a programmable navigation computer—California has announced regulations designed to govern the testing of these cars on public roads.

The regulations impose some straight-forward requirements on manufacturers looking to test these technologies, including:

  • That the manufacturer be the one actually conducting the testing, and must certify that the driver is competent to conduct the testing. Each driver must also have relatively clean driving records (no more than one “point” on his or her license under the California Vehicle Code, and no DUIs for the last ten years), obtain a new class of permit designed for autonomous vehicle operators, and undergo defensive driving training and training on operating the vehicle in question.
  • In addition to driver permits, the manufacturer must obtain a “Manufacturer’s Testing Permit” to conduct testing, and must test the vehicle off-road in an environment designed to closely simulate public roads prior to actually engaging in on-road testing.
  • The manufacturer must be able to satisfy, either via self-insurance, surety bond, or insurance policy, a judgment of up to $5 million for damages caused by the vehicle.
  • The operator of the vehicle, if not in “immediate physical control,” must be capable of “taking over immediate physical control” of the vehicle while it is testing (which may nix immediate plans to road-test Google’s new prototype).
  • Manufacturers must report to the state any incident causing property damage or personal injury arising from testing. Additionally, any incident causing the driver to disengage autonomous driving and take over the vehicle due to safety concerns or failure of the autonomous driving technology must be reported to the state, with certain detailed information regarding the disengagement.

While these regulations may prove to add some burden to manufacturers, including adding reporting obligations, training protocols, and other requirements, the upshot is that California appears to recognize that autonomous vehicle development is progressing—and, encouragingly, its response appears to be that it will monitor these developments, not block them.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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