California regulators, in a move to put limits on self-driving cars, recently proposed rules that would sharply restrict their use on the state’s roads. Furthermore, the proposal would ban “driverless” cars that travel with no humans onboard who are able to take control.

 

Under the proposal by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, all autonomous cars will need a steering wheel and pedals when operating on California’s public roads. More importantly, they will need a human driver with an “autonomous vehicle operator certificate” prepared to take control of the car if necessary.

 

There is more worth noting. According to the draft regulations, manufacturers would also need to put the driverless cars through a third-party safety test; regularly report accidents; implement security measures to detect, respond and alert a driver if someone hacks the vehicle;  and inform passengers what kind of data the vehicles collect.

 

The response was generally about what you would expect. In a statement, Google said California’s rules would hold back a technology with the potential to prevent car crashes and improve the mobility of people who currently cannot drive.

 

“Safety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this,” spokesman Johnny Luu wrote in an e-mail. “We’re gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here.”

 

What was surprising though is that Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency does not yet have a position on California’s proposals, however he does oppose a “patchwork” of state regulations on driverless cars.

 

Interestingly, although California’s proposal is opposed by innovators in driverless car technology, it’s consistent with NHTSA’s 2013 guidelines on driverless cars. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked the NHTSA to review those guidelines to ensure they don’t hold back innovations, a Reuters story reports.

 

“We need to figure out how to make sure this is not a patchwork [of state regulations],” Rosekind said in the Reuters story. “We are pretty deep into looking at our regulatory framework that we currently have.”

 

Rosekind adds that NHTSA is talking to state officials in an effort to “have some kind of national approach to this.” He further notes that Europe has a “patchwork” approach to driverless vehicle testing that is, what he terms, “problematic.”

 

Although NHTSA is reviewing California’s rules, it also is worth noting that states do have wide authority to set state driving regulations.

 

In any event, I look forward to responses from other companies. In addition to Google, there are numerous other car companies with a permit to test vehicles on Californian roads. They include Honda, Mercedes Benz, Tesla Motors, Nissan and BMW AG as well as the newest entrant, Ford.

 

Indeed, the Ford Research and Innovation Center Palo Alto continues to grow, and one of the results is that the company recently announced it’s officially enrolled in the California Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. Ford expects fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid sedans to be driving in California next year.

 

I am in favor of innovation, however, at this point, I believe these vehicles should still have steering wheels and pedals, as well as a human driver ready to take control if need be. But that’s me. I also think there should be a national approach to governing how the cars may be tested, rather than a state-by-state patchwork.

 

What are your thoughts? Should autonomous vehicles still have controls and a human ready to seize control? Also, should governing decisions regarding these vehicles be left to individual states?