Google Self Driving Car, Googleplex, Oct 2015 by Michael Shick (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Google Self Driving Car, Googleplex, Oct 2015 by Michael Shick (image via Wikipedia – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Google has been testing its autonomous cars on the roads of California for over a year. One of Google’s key reasons for automated vehicles is that humans don’t pay enough attention while driving. Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving program, states that at any moment there are 660,000 people behind the wheel who are checking their devices rather than watching the road. That’s a powerful statement, unfortunately, Mr. Urmson doesn’t provide any qualified statistics on such a study (see The View from the Front Seat of a Google Self-Driving Car under Additional Articles at end of this post).

To Google’s disappointment, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recently drafted regulations to govern the launch of driverless vehicles on its highways. These rules are the first to be proposed in the US and will likely affect regulations in other states as well.

Google's Driverless Car Legal in four states: California, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, 2014, by Habarithor (image via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Google’s Driverless Car Legal in Four States, 2014: California, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, by Habarithor (image via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Let’s look at a few of California’s proposed regulations.

Operator of a Vehicle Must Have a Driver’s License

In the event the driverless car becomes inoperable, there must be a licensed driver who can take control of the vehicle.

Operator of a Vehicle Must Possess an “Autonomous Vehicle Operator Certificate”

Besides a state driver’s license, the vehicle operator must also have earned and possess an autonomous vehicle operator certificate (via DMV). This means the operator has been trained how to take control of the vehicle in case of vehicle failure or emergency.

Vehicle Must Have Steering Wheel and Control Peddles

These are features Google driverless cars do not have, and which Google isn’t happy about possibly needing to add. Obviously California is concerned about that, and for good reason. How is a driver supposed to take control of a vehicle if its systems fail or an emergency occurs?


If these proposed regulations take effect in California, there will be some very disappointed entities besides Google — for example, delivery services and transportation companies such as Uber that had hoped to bypass hiring humans. It could also mean that Google and other companies wanting to manufacture driverless cars for the public, such as Tesla and Ford, may move to states other than California.

And what about auto insurance companies? Liability for accidents could pass from the humans in automated vehicles to the vehicle manufacturers.

Additional Articles

The View from the Front Seat of the Google Self-Driving Car (by Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program)

A Proposed California Law Would Require Drivers for Driverless Cars (Tech Crunch)

Automated Vehicle Crashes (by Bryant Walker Smith, The Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School)

Removing Humans from the Equation (National Motorists Association Newsletter Dec 27 2015)

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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

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