One Step Closer to Self-Driving Cars, as California Senate Approves Bill

Looks like states are finally jumping on the autonomous-driving bandwagon, but this time it has a little “oomph” behind it. Having Nevada pass a bill specifically to allow and regulate automated driving was great, but this time it’s California that gave it the green light. California’s driving and automotive laws have always had a big influence on federal laws – except lane splitting, thank goodness – so chances are more states will follow and the NHTSA will eventually jump on board.

The thing to remember here is that this bill was not to allow autonomous cars to drive on California roads, as California has no laws barring self-driving cars. This law is to govern the production and testing of these cars in hopes of giving manufacturers a clear set of rules regarding these cars, which may press more automakers into this realm.

The first thing that California cleared up is defining an autonomous vehicle. This is any vehicle that can drive without any human intervention, so this eliminates Cadillac’s self-driving car for now and leaves only the Google car (seen in the above video). It also specifies that it is legal to manufacture your own autonomous car and drive it on California highways, which is an interesting topic of debate.

The bill goes on to state that the car must have a licensed driver in the driver’s seat and that driver must be designated by the car’s builder as a legal driver for said vehicle. The only exception to this rule is on a closed course. The manufacturer must also have an insurance policy or bond in the amount of $5 million prior to testing the vehicle. From there the bill goes on to define what safety issues the manufacturer, car, and driver must comply with.

Keep in mind that this is only the first step for this bill, as it must pass the State Assembly next. Given the bill passed 37 – 0, we doubt it will be held up.

Click past the jump to read the bill. Yes, it is in regular English, not “politicianese.”

BILL NUMBER: SB 1298 AMENDED BILL TEXT

AMENDED IN SENATE APRIL 16, 2012
AMENDED IN SENATE APRIL 9, 2012

INTRODUCED BY Senator Padilla

FEBRUARY 23, 2012

An act to add Division 16.6 (commencing with Section 38750) to the
Vehicle Code, relating to vehicles.

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

SB 1298, as amended, Padilla. Vehicles: autonomous vehicles:
safety and performance requirements.

Existing law requires the Department of the California Highway
Patrol to adopt rules and regulations that are designed to promote
the safe operation of specific vehicles, including, among other
things, schoolbuses and commercial motor vehicles.

This bill would authorize the operation of an autonomous vehicle,
as defined, on public roads by a licensed driver if either of 2
conditions applies, including, among other things, that the
manufacturer of the autonomous technology certifies that the
autonomous vehicle has a mechanism to engage and disengage the
autonomous technology that is easily accessible to the operator and
that the autonomous technology meets all applicable safety standards
and performance requirements set forth in state and federal law and
the regulations promulgated pursuant to those provisions.

The bill would require that, until such time that an autonomous vehicle meets the requirements established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the operation of autonomous vehicles without the presence of a licensed driver, an autonomous vehicle may not be operated on public roads unless a licensed driver is seated in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. The bill would also authorize the Department of the California Highway Patrol, in consultation with the Department of Motor Vehicles, to recommend to the Legislature additional requirements for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s public roads , including, among other things, specific recommendations for the operation of an autonomous vehicle without the presence of a licensed driver.

Vote: majority.

Appropriation: no.

Fiscal committee: yes.

State-mandated local program: no.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. Division 16.6 (commencing with Section 38750) is added
to the Vehicle Code, to read:

DIVISION 16.6. Autonomous Vehicles

38750. The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(a) Development is actively under way of new technology that,
through the use of computers, sensors, and other systems, permits a
motor vehicle to operate without the active control and continuous
monitoring of a human operator. Motor vehicles with this technology,
referred to as "autonomous vehicles," offer significant potential
safety, mobility, and commercial benefits for individuals and
businesses in the state and elsewhere.

(b) Autonomous vehicles have been operated safely on public roads
in the state in recent years by entities developing and testing this technology.

(c) The State of California, which presently does not prohibit or
specifically regulate the operation of autonomous vehicles, desires
to encourage the current and future development, testing, and
operation of autonomous vehicles on the public roads of the state.
The state seeks to avoid interrupting these activities while at the
same time creating appropriate rules intended to ensure that the
testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in the state are
conducted in a safe manner.

(d) Toward that end, the Legislature finds it appropriate to
authorize the establishment of specific safety requirements for the
testing and operation of autonomous vehicles, and to require that
future testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in the state
comply with those requirements.

38751. (a) For purposes of this division, the following
definitions apply:

(1) "Autonomous technology" means technology that has the
capability to drive the vehicle on which it is installed without the
active control or continuous monitoring by a human operator.

(2) (A) "Autonomous vehicle" means any vehicle equipped with
autonomous technology.

(B) An autonomous vehicle does not include a vehicle that is
equipped with one or more collision avoidance systems, including, but
not limited to, electronic blind spot assistance, automated
emergency braking systems, park assist, adaptive cruise control, lane
keep assist, lane departure warning, traffic jam and queuing assist,
or other similar systems that enhance safety or provide driver
assistance, but are not capable, collectively or singularly, of
driving the vehicle without the active control or monitoring of a
human operator.

(3) A "manufacturer" of autonomous technology is the person as
defined in Section 470 that originally manufactures a vehicle and
equips autonomous technology on the originally completed vehicle or,
in the case of a vehicle not originally equipped with autonomous
technology by the vehicle manufacturer, the person that modifies the
vehicle by installing autonomous technology to convert it to an
autonomous vehicle after the vehicle was originally manufactured.

(b) An autonomous vehicle may be operated on public roads by a
licensed driver if either of the following applies:

(1) The autonomous vehicle is being operated on roads in this
state solely by employees, contractors, or other persons designated
by the manufacturer of the autonomous technology for testing
purposes. For testing purposes, a human operator shall be present in
the autonomous vehicle such that he or she has the ability to monitor
the vehicle’s performance and intervene, if necessary, unless the
vehicle is being tested or demonstrated on a closed course. Prior to
the start of testing in this state, the entity performing the testing
must obtain an instrument of insurance, surety bond, or proof of
self-insurance in the amount of five million dollars ($5,000,000).

(2) The manufacturer of the autonomous technology certifies all of
the following:

(A) The autonomous vehicle has a mechanism to engage and disengage
the autonomous technology that is easily accessible to the operator.

(B) The autonomous vehicle has a visual indicator inside the cabin
to indicate when the autonomous technology is engaged.

(C) The autonomous vehicle has a system to safely alert the
operator if an autonomous technology failure is detected while the
autonomous technology is engaged, and when an alert is given, the
system shall do either of the following:

(i) Require the operator to take control of the autonomous
vehicle.

(ii) If the operator is unable to take control of the autonomous
vehicle, be equipped with technology capable of moving
the autonomous vehicle safely out of traffic and to a complete stop.

(D) If limitations of the autonomous technology installed on the
autonomous vehicle make it necessary for the operator to be
physically present inside the autonomous vehicle when the autonomous technology is engaged, the autonomous vehicle shall allow the operator to take control in multiple manners, including, without limitation, through the use of the brake, the accelerator pedal, or the steering wheel, and it shall alert the operator that the
autonomous technology has been disengaged.

(E) The autonomous technology meets all applicable safety
standards and performance requirements set forth in state and federal law and the regulations promulgated pursuant to those laws.

(F) The autonomous technology does not adversely affect any safety
features of the autonomous vehicle that are mandated by federal
regulations.

(c) Until such time that an autonomous vehicle meets the
requirements established by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA) for the operation of autonomous vehicles
without the presence of a licensed driver, the autonomous vehicle may not be operated on public roads unless a licensed driver is seated in the driver’s seat of the vehicle.

(d) The Department of the California Highway Patrol
may, in consultation with the Department of Motor Vehicles, recommend to the Legislature additional requirements for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California’s public roads , including, but not limited to, specific recommendations for the operation of an autonomous vehicle without the presence of a licensed driver .


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