Watchdog: Google's Driverless Cars Need More Testing

Jun 12, 2014 12:46 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro

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Consumer Watchdog has warned the California Department of Motor Vehicles not to give into pressure from Google and others with an interest in developing autonomous vehicles to rush to adopt regulations for the public use of the vehicles that are not ready to protect our safety.

"We urge the DMV to follow a sensible and deliberate approach that would require adequate testing and time to analyze the test results," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, in a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto, according to a press release.

The DMV recently published regulations that are set to take effect Sept. 16 governing manufacturers' testing autonomous vehicles or "driverless cars" on California highways.

The department is now drafting regulations that will regulate the public use of the vehicles, and expects to adopt them before the end of 2014.

"In the ideal rule-making process, regulations covering the public use of autonomous vehicles would not be adopted until they could be informed by the results of testing that was done under DMV regulation," wrote Simpson. "Unfortunately the Legislature, under pressure from Google and the tech industry, required in SB 1298 that the regulations for both testing and public use be adopted by Jan. 1, 2015."

Consumer Watchdog said that the testing rules require reports explaining when and why a test driver had to take over operation of the car and the details of any accidents. The first such testing reports would cover the period from when a test vehicle received a permit presumably Sept. 16 through Nov. 30, 2015. These reports would be due by Jan. 1, 2016.

Consumer Watchdog has urged the DMV's public use driverless car rules to come with a provision that a driverless car must be tested for at least a year under DMV regulation.

They also want at least six months be given to analyze the test results before a vehicle could be offered to the public, according to the release.

The earliest time a "driverless car" could be approved for public use on California's highways would be July 1, 2016, under Consumer Watchdog's proposed regulation.

"We call on the DMV to ensure the safety of the public is put well ahead of the self-serving agendas of the manufactures," wrote Simpson. "There can be no doubt that Google is pushing to deploy autonomous vehicles as fast as it can. The Department of Motor Vehicles must not succumb to the Internet giant's pressure.

Click here to read Consumer Watchdog's letter.

"Little more than a week after the DMV adopted the testing regulations, Google announced plans for a fleet of driverless cars that have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator," wrote Simpson. "There would be no way for an occupant to take control in an emergency; occupants would be captives of Google's technology, completely at the Internet giant's mercy."

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