Good news has arrived this week. California will allow tech companies to test self-driving vehicles without safety drivers from April 2. Director of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Jean Shiomoto said, “This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California.” (Financial Times called this “long awaited win for Silicon Valley lobbyists.”)
The new regulations does not necessarily mean companies can hit the road without any constraints. Because DMV wants to see reasonable proof of safety and cyber security measures.
One can call this as a breaking news for the autonomous driving world. I will tell you why: People may think this is the very first time that a US State approved true driverless testing. Yet, it is not. The states like Arizona, Michigan or Phoenix allows tech companies to conduct autonomous vehicle (AV) tests without ‘natural drivers’. However, California is different from all other states in the United States. It is one of the most important hubs of autonomous driving technology all around the world. Maybe the most important one.
Additionally, California obligates companies to share some critical performance metrics. For instance ‘disengagement’ statistics. The reason is clear: Although, public trust in AVs improved significantly in recent years, still 63% of the Americans are not comfortable the idea. And thus, there is an ‘Anti-Autonomous Driving Society’ in the States. For the sake of public trust, California holds companies accountable and simply promotes open data society.
From April 2, California will allow companies to deploy AV’s without steering wheels and they will have to comply with the state regulations. This means AV enthusiasts will have a better understanding of the current development status of the companies’ projects. (There left no excuse for some Palo Alto companies not to conduct even a single AV road test in California. Other than not willing to share their development data.)
In the end of 2018, Disengagement Reports may become redundant. Because there will not be a safety driver sitting behind the wheel to control the AV. And, we may consider number of AV involved accidents as a performance metric. As an AV-head, I think and hope 2018 will be a clean sheet for autonomous driving in California.