California DMV to propose regulations on the testing of autonomous vehicles


On June 18, 2013, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) conducted a workshop on regulations that will govern the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. The workshop is a precursor to the drafting of regulations and the commencement of a rulemaking proceeding.

SB 1298, which was enacted last year, requires the DMV to adopt regulations on the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads and the post-testing operation of autonomous vehicles by January 1, 2015.

SB 1298 defines “autonomous vehicle” as any vehicle that is equipped with autonomous technology that has been integrated into the vehicle. The law defines “autonomous technology” to mean “technology that has the capability to drive a vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring by a human operator.”

SB 1298 specifies the requirements that must be met in order to operate an autonomous vehicle on public roads for testing purposes:

  • The law mandates that the manufacturer of the autonomous technology performing the testing must obtain an instrument of insurance, surety bond, or proof of self-insurance in the amount of $5 million, and must provide evidence of insurance, surety bond, or self-insurance to the DMV in a form and manner set forth in regulations adopted by the DMV.
  • SB 1298 states that a driver must be seated in the vehicle’s driver seat during testing, and the driver must be an employee, contractor, or designee of the manufacturer.

Participants in the June 18 workshop included representatives of vehicle manufacturers, technology companies, insurers, and DMV staff. The discussion centered on permits that would have to be obtained in order to test autonomous vehicles, the certification of drivers, the registration of testing vehicles, and the financial responsibility requirement.

DMV staff opined that if a manufacturer complies with the financial responsibility requirement by obtaining an insurance policy, the policy must have a minimum policy limit of $5 million and must cover liability for bodily injury, death, and damage to property.  DMV plans to study the issue of whether the insurance coverage would have to be obtained from an insurer admitted to do business in California.

At the close of the workshop, DMV staff announced that the agency intends to propose regulations on the testing of autonomous vehicles in two months.


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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