On March 10, 2017, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) officially proposed new regulations that would allow the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on California roads. The proposed regulations largely track draft regulations the agency released in September 2016, on which the DMV received extensive public comment. The new proposed regulations can be found here. The DMV has set a deadline of April 24, 2017, for written comments on the proposed regulations, with a public hearing scheduled for April 25, 2017.

As we noted in a previous client alert on the draft regulations, these new regulations are much more permissive than existing autonomous vehicle regulations in California in several respects:

  • The new regulations would allow for “deployment” of autonomous vehicles for public use, as opposed to just for testing purposes.
  • The regulations no longer require a driver behind the wheel of every autonomous vehicle, allowing for the testing and deployment of vehicles that are not equipped with steering wheels, manual brakes, or other devices that would allow a human driver to take control.
  • The DMV no longer contemplates developing its own vehicle performance or testing standards, instead incorporating NHTSA’s Automated Vehicle Performance Guidance.
  • The revised draft regulations would not create a special driver’s license certificate for anyone operating an autonomous vehicle.

Under the proposed regulations, manufacturers or developers of autonomous vehicle technologies would be required to apply for and obtain special permits from the DMV before testing or deploying autonomous vehicles on California roads. To obtain a permit, manufacturers must meet liability insurance requirements, submit documentation to the DMV, and comply with various reporting requirements. For post-testing deployment of autonomous vehicles, the DMV’s proposed regulations would require ongoing support from manufacturers for their vehicles. For instance, the proposed regulations would require regular software updates to deployed autonomous vehicles, and at least for those vehicles with no driver behind the wheel, a continuous communications link that would allow a remote operator to connect with the vehicle’s occupants in case of emergency.

The proposed regulations differ from the DMV’s September 2016 draft regulations in some important respects:

  • Definition of “autonomous vehicle.” — The proposed regulations define “autonomous test vehicle” as one equipped with technology that “performs the dynamic driving task [core driving functions such as acceleration, steering, and object detection and avoidance] with or without a natural person actively monitoring the driving environment.” The existing regulations define “autonomous vehicle” as one equipped with technology that “has the capability of operating or driving the vehicle without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person.” By defining “autonomous vehicle” without reference to human control or monitoring, the regulations attempt to remove an ambiguity that some commentators had suggested would allow the testing of autonomous vehicles without a permit so long as a human was monitoring the vehicle during testing. The proposed regulations specifically state that the presence of a test driver “shall not affect whether a vehicle meets the definition of autonomous test vehicle.” Notably, the definition of “autonomous vehicle” as it pertains to “deployment” of autonomous vehicles (as opposed to “testing”) continues to refer to the “capability” of the technology to operate “without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person,” tracking the language of the existing regulations.
  • Advertising standards. — While the September 2016 draft regulations contained advertising standards prohibiting the use of terms like “self-driving,” “automated,” and “auto-pilot” to describe technologies that fell short of “autonomous vehicle” as defined by the regulation, the current proposed regulations remove those specific terms. Instead, the proposed regulations contain only the broad prohibition of language that is “likely [to] induce a reasonably prudent person to believe a vehicle is autonomous” when that vehicle is not.