California Proposes New Rules to Allow Self-Driving Cars to Pick Up Passengers

California Proposes New Rules to Allow Self-Driving Cars to Pick Up Passengers

Author: Derrick Smith   

SAN FRANCISCO — California's public utility regulator signaled on Friday it would allow self-driving car companies to transport passengers without a backup driver in the vehicle, a big step forward for autonomous car developers as the industry faces heightened scrutiny over safety concerns.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utilities including ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, both based in San Francisco, issued a proposal that could clear the way for companies such as Alphabet Inc's Waymo and General Motors to provide members of the public a ride in a self-driving car without any backup driver present.

The commission said its proposed rules complement the existing DMV rules but provide additional protections for passengers.

The proposal, which is set to be voted on at the commission's meeting on May 10, would clear the way for autonomous vehicle companies to perform more testing while getting the public more acquainted with driverless technology in California— a state that closely regulates the industry. It also comes as regulators across the country are scrutinizing autonomous cars.

The nascent industry is still reeling just weeks after a self-driving Uber vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian in Arizona—the first known fatality caused by a driverless car. Uber suspended all of its self-driving car operations after the accident in Arizona, while the crash remains under investigation by federal safety investigators.

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Waymo is offering self-driving pickups in a pilot program in Arizona

The California Department of Motor Vehicles had already issued rules allowing for autonomous vehicle testing without drivers, which took effect this week. So far, no companies have stepped forward to begin testing without backup drivers in their vehicles.

The proposed California rules require that companies hold an autonomous vehicle testing permit from the DMV for at least 90 days before picking up passengers. The service must be free of charge, meaning that companies are not allowed to accept payment from passengers riding in the autonomous vehicles.

The CPUC said after these rules are adopted, it will develop regulations for paid passenger services with self-driving cars. In addition, passengers must be 18 years or older and airport trips are not permitted.

The proposal also mandates that companies testing driverless cars file regular reports to regulators, including updates to the number of miles their self-driving vehicles travel, rides they complete and any disabled passengers they are serving.

Derrick Smith
Derrick Smith
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