Google, which has been developing and testing self-driving car technology for the past several years, has expressed disappointment with a proposed set of rules in California that among other things would require a licensed driver to be in an autonomous vehicle while it is in operation.
It also excludes fully autonomous vehicles from being operated on California roads, other than for testing, until further notice.
In a statement following the release of the proposed rules Dec. 16, Google said that safety has been its primary motivation in developing autonomous car technology.
"In developing vehicles that can take anyone from A to B at the push of a button, we're hoping to transform mobility for millions of people," the company said.
Autonomous cars have the potential to reduce the 94 percent of accidents that are caused by human error while offering a viable option for those who cannot operate a car themselves. "We're gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here," Google said.
In compliance with a state law, California's Department of Motor Vehicles is currently developing regulations pertaining to autonomous vehicle safety, performance standards and equipment requirements. On Wednesday, it released draft regulations that it said were designed to ensure the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on California public roads during the testing and deployment phases. The requirements apply to Google and 10 other manufacturers that currently hold a permit to test autonomous vehicle technology in California.
One key requirement is the need for such vehicles to at all times have a licensed driver with an autonomous vehicle operator certificate from the DMV. "The operator will be responsible for monitoring the safe operation of the vehicle at all times, and must be capable of taking over immediate control in the event of an autonomous technology failure or other emergency," the DMV said in a statement on the proposed rules.
Operators will be held responsible for traffic violations and will need to undergo a manufacturer-developed training program so they know how to engage, use, monitor and disengage the autonomous vehicle technology.
Even more significantly, from Google's standpoint at least, is the exclusion altogether of fully autonomous, fully self-driving vehicles from the draft regulations. The potential risks associated with operating such vehicles on public roads require manufacturers to do more testing, the DMV said.
"The department will address the unique safety, performance, and equipment requirements associated with fully autonomous vehicles without the presence of a driver in subsequent regulatory packages."
The proposed rules, if enacted as written, could set back Google's plans to get its driverless cars on the roads by 2020, at least in California. Unlike several other manufacturers that are developing technology that will add varying degrees of autonomous driving capabilities to driver-operated cars, Google has embarked on an effort to deliver fully self-driving vehicles over the next few years.
The company has been working on developing and testing cars that do not have a steering wheel, brakes, gas pedals or other equipment associated with regular driver-operated vehicles. Google has recently been testing these cars on California public roads as well as in Texas. The company is reportedly planning to offer an Uber-like ridesharing service using a fleet of its own, fully autonomous vehicles.
Just this week Bloomberg Business reported that Google plans to make its autonomous cars initiative an independent company under the recently created Alphabet holding company. According to Bloomberg, the new business will offer a rides-for-hire service initially in areas like corporate parks and college campuses, using a fleet of autonomous vehicles.
Meanwhile, there are also reports of Google planning to test its autonomous vehicles in the United Kingdom. The Telegraph earlier this week reported that Google has had at least five meetings with officials at the UK's Department of Transport regarding autonomous vehicles.
"There are substantial safety, legal and liability issues that relate to driverless cars and all these will have to be addressed before autonomous cars can really fulfill their potential," said Richard Windsor, an analyst at Edison Investment Research, in a statement. "This means that regulations and laws will have to be adjusted to take autonomous driving into account and when it comes to these areas time is not considered to be a precious resource."
Windsor said he expects autonomous cars to be ready for commercial use well before lawmakers allow them on public roads.