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California issues self-driving rule proposals, plans for testing without human in-car drivers by end-2017

13 March 2017 Stephanie Brinley, MBA

California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has issued a notice of proposed rules on testing and operating autonomous vehicles, which would update previous guidance and enable testing without backup human drivers in vehicles.

IHS Markit Perspective:

  • Significance: The US state of California, through its Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), has released new proposed rules on testing and operating autonomous or self-driving vehicles.
  • Implications: The rules lay out requirements on manufacturers, including for securing testing permits and in reporting their test locations and results. Media reports have inaccurately characterised the changes as relaxing restrictions. The new rules allow for vehicles to be tested and later deployed without containing a "natural person" but set additional reporting and vehicle-control requirements.
  • Outlook: The update rules would allow manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles without drivers present and include permitting language for when autonomous and driverless vehicles become available outside the test environment. Publishing the guidelines starts a 45-day public comment period, to be followed by a hearing to gather input. Regulation is one of the most significant challenges for deploying autonomous vehicles and California's outline is likely to provide the template for other states.

California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has published proposed rules on testing and deploying fully autonomous vehicles that would enable vehicles to be tested without a backup human driver ("natural person" in the documents). In its Notice of Proposed Regulatory Action, the DMV writes, "Since the adoption of the current testing regulations, the capabilities of autonomous technology [have] proceeded to the point where manufacturers have developed systems that are capable of operating without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle." The DMV has therefore amended its rules on testing and deploying autonomous vehicles in the state.

A proposed "Manufacturer's Testing Permit - Driverless Vehicles" differs from earlier permits allowing in-car monitored testing. The state has also added a section of code on public deployment of autonomous vehicles, including vehicles that do not require a driver to be inside them. The proposed rules also lay out state guidelines for getting an "Application for a Permit for Post-Testing Deployment of Autonomous Vehicles on Public Roads".

Core language has been updated, with more robust definitions of vehicles operating in autonomous mode: "the status of vehicle operation where technology that is a combination of hardware and software, both remote and on-board, performs the dynamic driving task, with or without a natural person monitoring the driving environment". An autonomous vehicle is still defined as one "operated or driving in autonomous mode when it is operated or driven with the autonomous technology engaged". An autonomous test vehicle is now described as "a vehicle that has been equipped with technology that is a combination of both hardware and software that performs the dynamic driving task, with our without a natural person continuously controlling the vehicle or continuously monitoring the vehicle's performance in the driving environment". The state also clarifies that it borrows definitions from the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE) for vehicle capability, noting that autonomous test vehicles would meet SAE Level 3, 4, and 5 definitions.

Other changes include a requirement for automakers to notify the local government in the area where testing will occur. Manufacturers would still have to certify their liability and ability to pay for at-fault collisions. For driverless test cars, automakers must maintain communication with the vehicles and describe their monitoring methods to the DMV. Vehicles without drivers must also have a process for giving owner information at, for example, traffic stops and accidents. Test vehicles must comply with relevant US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), unless their manufacturer can provide evidence of an exemption.

For those looking to test vehicles in the state, the DMV's definitions of dynamic driving task and operational design domain (ODD) may be particularly relevant. The DMV defines the dynamic driving task as "all of the real-time functions required to operate a vehicle in on-road traffic, excluding selection of final and intermediate destinations, and including without limitation: object and event detection, recognition, and classification; object and event response; manoeuvre planning; steering, turning, lane keeping and lane changing, including providing the appropriate signal for the lane change or turn maneuver; and acceleration and deceleration". ODD is "the specific operating domain(s) in which an automated function or system is designed to properly operate, including but not limited to roadway type, speed range, environmental conditions (weather, daytime/nighttime, etc.), and other domain constraints". The proposed rules define a passenger as one able to summon a vehicle or input a destination but not engage the technology. As the state has amended its rules to allow for testing of autonomous vehicles by remote operators, it has defined that person to be "a natural person who: possesses the proper class of licence for the type of test vehicle being operated; is not inside the vehicle; engages and monitors the autonomous technology; and is able to communicate with occupants in the vehicle through a communication link".

Automakers seeking an autonomous vehicle permit must notify the local jurisdiction and the state of the ODD and any updates to it. They must also give the DMV a copy of the notification and assume all liability for any accidents on public roads if the autonomous vehicle is at fault. The manufacturers must further provide a law-enforcement interaction plan to the DMV, law enforcement, and first responders, ensuring they know how to interact with the vehicle in the case of a traffic accident, for example, given the lack of a human to talk to. The DMV details items that must be included and requires that the plan be reviewed on a "regular" basis. The manufacturer must also explain how it will monitor the two-way communications link and how all test vehicles will be monitored. Remote test drivers must be certified, with the DMV receiving the course outline, programme description, and the date the remote operator took the course. The DMV also requires that the "instruction shall match the level and technical maturity of the automated driving system". In an effort to keep track of privacy issues, the DMV would require manufacturers to inform any passengers who are members of the public of what personal information the vehicle might collect on them. For driverless test vehicles, manufacturers must also submit the same safety assessment letter that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) considers voluntary.

Requirements for post-testing deployment include that the manufacturer identify the ODD, certify if the vehicles are designed to be incapable of operating outside those areas, and identify restrictive conditions, "including but not limited to snow, fog, black ice, wet road surfaces, construction zones, and geo-fencing". Once the vehicles transition from testing to post-testing deployment, they would also have to be equipped with an autonomous technology data recorder, for which the DMV specifies how much data must be recorded. Post-testing deployment vehicles must also adhere to FMVSS, or provide an exemption, whether or not they have steering wheels, brake pedals, or accelerators. These vehicles must follow California traffic rules. Automakers must make necessary updates available for the vehicles and the owners must ensure their vehicles are updated. Post-testing vehicles must have self-diagnosis capabilities for detecting and responding to cyber attacks. Like test vehicles, post-test vehicles must be able to provide information to law enforcement onsite if they are involved in collisions or other traffic situations.

Autonomous vehicles approved for post-test deployment must also include a plan for communicating the vehicle's ODD to consumers and information on engaging and disengaging systems, visual in-car indicators of drive modes, and operator and manufacturer operating responsibilities. Manufacturers must describe how a vehicle can come safely to a complete stop in the case of a failure, whether driver- or technology-related. With regard to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers must certify that vehicles meet California and US standards and that they have registered them with the NHTSA and any autonomous driving programmes. Manufacturers must provide certain test data demonstrating the technology has been tested in the ODD where the vehicles are designed to operate, which could enable vehicles not tested in California to be deployed in the state.

The updated proposals also specify how permits can be suspended or revoked for each of the three levels. Failing to meet or maintain initial terms can result in revocation of any type of permit or not disclosing issues which "the department finds makes the conduct of autonomous vehicle testing on public roads by the manufacturer an unreasonable risk to the public". The state requires ongoing reporting, similar to the reporting of today, while asking for significantly more specific detail.

The full California DMV documents can be downloaded at the DMV site here.

Outlook and implications

The rule update allows for manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles without a driver present and includes permitting language for when autonomous and driverless vehicles become available outside the test environment. Publishing the guidelines initiates a 45-day public comment period. This will be followed by a hearing to gather input, after which the DMV will issue final rules. The deadline for written comments is 24 April 2017 and the hearing is scheduled for the following day. The regulatory environment is one of the most significant challenges for deploying autonomous vehicles and California's outline is likely to provide a template for other states.

The rules run counter to an earlier indication from California that it would ban driverless vehicles . The proposals also follow recent reports that the US federal government might revise its guidelines. These requirements are more specific than their predecessors and require more formal follow-up and ongoing communication with the DMV. In basic safety, California defers to federal regulation. Other states with guidelines include Michigan and Pennsylvania.

While the guidelines would open testing to vehicles without any occupants, they also increase reporting requirements. One element that remains unclear, as in the first set of documents, is how the DMW would review data or determine if vehicles are operating safely. The DMV may lack currently lack technological information to determine that. Established automakers are already familiar with meeting increasingly complex regulations. Companies looking to break into the industry could find the level of documentation and follow-up onerous. These proposals are designed to ensure the agency has requirements that can help it ensure the safety of the driving public.

About this article

The above article is from IHS Automotive Same-Day Analysis of automotive news, events and trends, and is a deliverable of the World Markets Automotive Service. The service averages thirty stories per day and also provides competitor and country intelligence. Get a free trial.


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