California Paves Way for Testing Self Driving Cars on Public Roads in September

Paul Lilly

The next time you're cut off in traffic, it might be the car, not the human driver that did it!

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) this week approved a set of rules and regulations for testing autonomous vehicles , otherwise known as self-driving cars. There was a public hearing held back in January, after which the DMV delivered final testing regulations to the Office of Administrative Law for approval. Regulations were then written up this week and will become effective on September 16, 2014.

As you might expect, there's a bit of a process involved before a company can put a driver inside a self-driving car and have it barrel down public roads. There's a permit that needs to be filed for. The vehicle must be operated by an autonomous vehicle test driver who is an employee, contractor, or designee of the manufacturer conducting the test. In addition, the company must have $5 million in insurance, or otherwise show proof that it can pay up to that amount in damage claims.

There are requirements for the test driver as well. Most of the regulations are obvious entries -- the driver must be in immediate physical control or actively monitoring the vehicle's operation and capable of taking over if something goes awry. He or she must also remain in the driver's seat at all times. There's actually quite a bit of training involved.

"As automated systems get more complex, human understanding also gets more complex," Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), told ArsTechnica . "For a vehicle to suddenly swerve to the right, a human would have to grab [the steering wheel]... training becomes even more important, and it would also be important for general users."

It's an interesting future we're embarking on. A recent article in Popular Science posed an interesting question . Say a front tire blows out and your autonomous car swerves. After calculating the outcome, the self-driving car can either swerve left into oncoming traffic and kill multiple people, or swerve right over a cliff killing just you. Which should it do?

That's a question that will eventually need to be answered.

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