California has made it easier for self-driving cars to hit the road. Over the last few years, these vehicles have become extremely popular with drivers. While the capability to put the car in self-drive mode is present, many still wonder whether using those features is legal and safe. The Golden State does have a few regulations for these self-driving vehicles.
Federal Policy on Automated Vehicles
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) weighed in on the matter by releasing its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy in 2016. The policy made recommendations for vehicle performance, stated the current regulations, and suggested new rules for all self-driving vehicles. However, the federal guidelines do not put limitations on these vehicles, leaving the matter up to each individual state.
California’s Regulations for Self-Driving Vehicles
California has regulations regarding self-driving vehicle testing on the books. According to the state, these self-driving vehicles are known as “autonomous vehicles,” and they are equipped with the software and hardware to drive without the help of a human.
Today, vehicles can only operate in the self-driving mode during a “testing” stage, meaning using the self-driving feature without the proper permit is technically illegal.
The current laws state that the testing companies will need to specify a particular area for testing and provide the Department of Motor Vehicles with all the pertinent information relating to the vehicle. Any company operating without following these guidelines could have its licenses suspended from the state.
While the state still wants to promote innovation, the prominent concern is public safety on the roads. According to the latest laws, the state of California categorizes these vehicles into two classes: Level 3 limited automation and Level 4 full automation.
The state does not allow any vehicle to self-operate on the road without applying for a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles. According to the DMV, there needs to be more evidence to allow the use of fully autonomous vehicles on the road.
Any car manufacturer wishing to test their self-driving vehicle will need to register with the state and follow a few regulations on the road, including the following:
All Self-Driving Vehicles Must Be Certified
Before these vehicles are allowed on the road, they must meet specific vehicle safety and performance requirements – all of which must be certified by the manufacturer and a third-party inspector. During the testing process, the vehicle should be able to perform real-world driving maneuvers that could be found in typical on-the-road conditions.
A Licensed Driver Must Be Present
While a handful of companies have permits for fully autonomous vehicle testing, most self-driving cars require a driver in the vehicle. Vehicles deemed as Level 3 autonomous vehicles need a licensed driver. If the technology fails or there is an emergency, the driver can take over for the self-driving system. One caveat with these regulations – if the car makes any traffic violation, then the licensed driver is responsible for those actions.
At one time, Uber was licensed to test self-driving vehicles in the state, with a licensed driver seated in the car. Due to a few traffic violations, the state pulled its permit. The company blamed the incidents on the drivers in the car, not their self-driving programming. Whether the vehicle is in self-drive testing or not, all drivers must ensure the car follows the road rules in California.
Testing Permits Are Limited
California allows testing on a limited basis, up to three years. During this time, the company must submit monthly reports to the California Department of Motor Vehicles regarding these self-driving vehicles’ safety, performance, and usage. The company must disclose all information to the state if any accidents or other incidents occur. Additionally, the permit must remain valid while the manufacturer is testing the vehicle.
Companies Cannot Charge Passengers for Services
Many ride-share companies have petitioned to allow self-driving vehicles on the road. While some have been granted permits, these companies cannot charge passengers for their services. Along with that, these vehicles cannot operate as Level 4 autonomous vehicles. They must always have a driver in the car to avoid accidents or prevent emergencies.
Have You Been Involved in a Self-Driving Vehicle Accident?
While there are regulations, it does not prevent self-driving vehicle accidents on the road. Along with following the above regulations, permit holders must have the financial means to cover all costs of an accident involving their self-driving vehicles.
At the Hicks Law Firm, we have successfully represented individuals injured in vehicle accidents. Our team of attorneys can help recover the damage from these accidents involving self-driving vehicles. Schedule a complimentary case consultation by contacting us today.
Aaron Hicks is a civil trial attorney and founder of Hicks Law Firm, based in Orange County, also with offices in San Diego and Tennessee. His current practice includes representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases.