California DMV Dares to Regulate

Let ratpag put you in the mood.

California released the final version of their autonomous vehicle testing regulations today. Here at ratpag, we expected a slight update of Nevada’s regulations, since basically every state and DC have done a cut-paste. Writing regs is hard!! Google was nice enough to write Nevada’s regulations for them, and since they were first, then obviously they were the best. They included things like:

1. A required $10 million bond in order to test.

That’s about it. Pretty much any ten-millionaire could modify a car in their garage. They’re rich, so they must know what they’re doing. That’s not fair, though. Nevada had at least one other requirement.

2. Test vehicles must meet current model year specifications.

That’s great if you’re a Google and modify existing Priuses and Lexuses (Priii and Lexi), but worthless for established automakers who are testing on vehicles eight years away from production. There’s no current model year specifications for the 2020 models, so Detroit is stuck. Thanks, Google!

Probably the biggest flaw with the Nevada regulations was the crash reporting requirement. Because there wasn’t one. Just like in the DC regulations (which, again, were based on Nevada’s which were based on Google’s lawyers’ contributions), testers were only required to record crash data if the vehicle was under autonomous control at the time of the crash. It didn’t have to report this to anyone, just, ya know, record it. If you didn’t feel like recording it at all, then just program the software to transfer control back to the human when time-to-collision is less than 0.1 seconds. I recall reading that testers protested these excrutiatingly minor requirements as an infringement on their privacy. Any data that goes to a DMV is potentially FOIA-able, and the general public and competitors might get a look at their safety record. I guess privacy of vehicle safety data when testing an unproven technology on public roads at high speeds is a fifth amendment issue.

So it was natural for California DMV to repeat all of these mistakes. Surprisingly, they instead crafted a new, much more strict set of regulations. This is doubly surprising because they actually sought out comments from the Reddit community.

First, they require manufacturers to report all property damage or injury crashes their vehicles were involved in regardless of fault or whether autonomous-mode was engaged. This allows California DMV to get some idea of the safety record of these vehicles, and also gives them the ability to take away a manufacturer’s test license for failing to report crashes. Then they go even further: each manufacturer is required to submit an annual report on all disengagements of the autonomous technology. This covers any time a self driving car decides to transfer control back to the driver, for any reason, even if it was planned during testing. The annual report must include the number of disengagements that year, mileage driven, a description of the circumstances for each disengagement, its location, and the time between when the driver was alerted and when the driver resumed control. Those are much-needed requirements, and ratpag is touched.


As usual, ratpag would like it to go a little bit further. California requires manufacturers to prove they are worth $5 million over the past three years, so we think manufacturers can handle monthly reporting. Otherwise, we let some Silicon Valley startup to have near-misses on the freeway for an entire 12-months before we do anything. ratpag thought that was the whole lesson from the Cobalt ignition switch. NHTSA never gets the data, and if they do, it comes in these huge chunks and they don’t know what to do with it. Or maybe there was a different lesson, ratpag wasn’t paying very close attention.

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