On Wednesday, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles published its first-ever official regulatory guidelines regarding self-driving cars. While the initial regulatory recommendations were already laid out last year, the official set of rules, regulations and restrictions were only made public on Wednesday. Google however, didn’t take too kindly to the newly-drafted rulebook and expressed severe dissatisfaction with the same, in no uncertain terms. While most of the proposed rules were along expected lines, Google took strong exception to the clause that says a licensed driver has to be present in autonomous vehicles at all times. Not that another clause that mandated a steering wheel and brake pedals on such vehicles found much favor with the Mountain View, California-based search giant either.
While the company had released an official statement through its spokesperson on Wednesday itself, the project’s leader has now come out all guns blazing admonishing the DMV for failing to be proactive in removing the status quo that’s believed to be hindering the progress of the new technology. Mr. Chris Urmson, the head of the driverless vehicle program at Google, has himself come out with a strongly-worded blog post on Medium, complaining about the “same old status quo”. Which is of course a direct reference to the current regulations that mandate the presence of a licensed driver along with traditional instrumentation on self-driving cars, ostensibly, to aid manual override in case of emergencies and unforeseen issues with the automated mechanism.
According to Mr. Urmson, “This maintains the same old status quo and falls short on allowing this technology to reach its full potential, while excluding those who need to get around but cannot drive”. However, he was quick to add that the company will work through its disappointment to see if it can convince the DMV to reconsider its guidelines, saying, “While we’re disappointed by this, we will continue to work with the DMV as they seek feedback in the coming months, in the hope that we can recapture the original spirit of the bill”. He also points out that the company regularly interacts with residents in the two towns where Google is testing its autonomous vehicles – Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas. According to his post, “people are telling us daily that fully self-driving cars are worth a shot”.
Meanwhile, Google apparently has found support for its cause from people in high places. The Lt. Governor of California, Mr. Gavin Newsom, released an official statement on Thursday, saying, “These latest draft regulations may prove too onerous, create roadblocks to innovation, and may ultimately drive the development of this promising industry to other states”. Another organization to have expressed its support for Google’s self-driving vehicles project is the California Foundation for Independent Living Centres, whose executive director, Ms. Teresa Favuzzi, also Tweeted her disillusionment at the rules formulated by the DMV. According to her, “DMV excludes PWD (People with Disabilities) by requiring self-driving cars to have drivers”.