— California's proposed driverless car regulations have changed once again, but this time the changes have met approval by auto safety advocates.
California has made multiple changes to its proposed driverless car regulations, going from positions seen as consumer-friendly, to writing up standards recommended by self-driving automakers. Driverless car manufacturers saw some of the proposed rules as too strict, blocking innovation and hindering the work toward safer highways.
California's original proposed rules required autonomous cars to be equipped with steering wheels and pedals, but companies like Google (Waymo) complained the primary point of driverless cars is to get drivers away from the act of driving. California then updated its regulations to follow federal guidelines that say a computer can be considered the legal driver of an autonomous vehicle.
The DMV made additional changes to proposed regulations to add details about who would be held liable in a crash involving a driverless car. Safety advocates stepped in and said California was overstepping its legal authority by proposing regulations that took away rights of consumers and left vehicle owners with the responsibility of crash incidents.
One organization, Consumer Watchdog, said California was giving driverless automakers the ability to skip liability by blaming drivers for crashes caused by faulty software, parts, etc.
Consumer Watchdog said a driver could be held liable in a crash if they didn't follow every maintenance procedure in the owner's manual. For example, an autonomous vehicle works on a system of cameras and sensors that tell the computer, which is considered the driver, what the car should do every second on the road.
Consumer advocates are concerned who would be to blame for a crash caused by a faulty camera or sensor that is also covered with dirt. Those advocates feared an automaker could place blame on the consumer for not keeping the cameras and sensors clean at all times, even though the real cause of the crash was from a defective sensor.
Consumer advocates were also concerned with source of the language of the proposed California regulations, language that came straight from GM Chief Counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh.
Consumer Watchdog says before Hemmersbaugh worked on GM’s behalf, he was general counsel at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and wrote the legal opinion in response in 2016 that said a computer system can qualify as the legal driver of a car.
Consumer Watchdog wrote to the DMV and complained about the proposed rules, saying they were too friendly to driverless car companies, and the DMV took the hint and dropped the language. Although Consumer Watchdog says the proposed regulations still don't protect consumers enough, at least the DMV dropped language that came straight from General Motors.
Specifically, California tossed a section that wasn't needed because existing laws provide rules for determining who is at fault in car crashes.
Joining Consumer Watchdog in the fight against the DMV regulations were the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, Consumer Attorneys of California and the American Insurance Association.