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California takes lead to draft self-driving car laws
The state’s DMV wants to write rules to regulate autonomous cars in time for 2015.
By Douglas Newcomb Tue 12:48 PM

From computer technology to environmental and social causes, California has often been the trendsetter for the rest of the nation. Now California could be in the driver's seat when it comes to crafting the first road laws for autonomous cars.

Along with three other states, California previously passed driverless car laws that allowed companies such as Google and Toyota to test prototypes on public roads. But the California law, passed in 2012, also required the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to mandate how the public should operate self-driving cars by the end of 2014.

To meet this deadline, the California DMV plans to post draft language in June and then consider public comment this fall in order to get rules finalized by the end of the year. That process kicked off last week, with the DMV holding initial public hearings in Sacramento to determine how to write regulations for vehicles that aren’t yet available.

•Self-driving car law easily passes in California
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Government regulations are usually developed in response to new technologies and products. But with nearly 32 million registered cars and trucks — and as home to Google, which already operates its robo-cars on the state’s road — California wants to get ahead of the curve since it will be significantly affected by the advent of autonomous vehicles.

At last week's hearing, the DMV solicited questions on technology fail-safes, data tracking and new certification requirements for autonomous car "drivers."

Regarding the inordinate amounts of data that autonomous cars must process to work, John M. Simpson of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog said at the hearing that self-driving cars “must not become another way to track us in our daily lives.” Simpson, referring to Google, said the search giant and autonomous car pioneer resisted attempts to add privacy limits to the original 2012 legislation.

Another intriguing question that came out of the California hearing was whether an autonomous car even needs a human driver behind the wheel, which has been required by previous laws. DMV attorney Brian Soublet responded to the question, which was submitted via Twitter, by acknowledging that his department is still grappling with the issue — and added that a car may not need a person behind the wheel once the technology is proven to be safe and reliable.

With the federal government likely years away from developing regulations that apply to autonomous vehicles nationwide, California's rules could set a precedent. And being passed by a car with no one sitting in the driver's seat could someday go from a kooky California concept to a common sight.

[Source: USA Today]
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