April 25, 2017 / 11:21 PM / 4 months ago

Automakers ask California to ease rules for self-driving car tests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Automakers on Tuesday urged the state of California to further ease its proposed regulations for autonomous vehicles, saying the state did not respond to their earlier objections by making enough revisions to its planned set of rules for self-driving cars.

At a public hearing in Sacramento monitored via webcast, automakers urged California to drop some additional proposed regulations and leave much of the oversight to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But safety and consumer advocates urged the state to adopt strict oversight, and an official from San Francisco said cities should have more local control.

A number of automakers have said they plan to begin deploying self-driving vehicles, some in commercial fleets, by 2020-2021.

Paul Scullion, a manager at the Association of Global Automakers, said California's proposed regulations go "too far."

The group opposes California's plan to require a permit to deploy autonomous vehicles, which must meet performance and design criteria. "We do not think requiring a permit to deploy is the right approach," Scullion said.

Global Automakers said it opposes California's proposal that it could withdraw permits to deploy vehicles even if they met federal requirements.

Ron Medford, director of safety at Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) self-driving unit Waymo, urged California to quickly issue final rules "to provide manufacturers with the certainty that they need."

Brian Soublet, deputy director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, said the agency will review written comments before unveiling final rules.

Andre Welch, a Ford Motor Co (F.N) official, asked the state to lift the proposed prohibition on testing self-driving vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds, such as multi-passenger shuttles.

Existing California regulations require self-driving test vehicles to have conventional manual controls such as steering wheels and pedals, as well as a backup driver. California moved to change the rules as many states said they would allow testing of vehicles without conventional controls.

In March, California's Department of Motor Vehicles revised proposed rules to allow testing by the end of the year of autonomous vehicles without human backup drivers.

After objections from automakers, the proposal was revised to drop requirements that local communities approve testing and that companies generate a year of testing data before being allowed to deploy vehicles on public roads.

Among those who called for strict oversight of self-driving cars were Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. "We do not trust the auto manufacturers or the tech industry to protect the public in the absence of federal motors vehicle safety standards," said the group's president Rosemary Shahan.

The group Consumer Watchdog called for stricter state rules, noting that there were not yet any federal standards for self-driving cars. In written comments, the group said relying on federal standards would amount to a "meaningless house of cards."

In February, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she was reviewing self-driving vehicle guidance issued by the Obama administration. Those guidelines call on automakers to voluntarily submit details of self-driving vehicle systems to regulators in a 15-point "safety assessment."

California has proposed requiring companies submit a copy of a voluntary assessment submitted to NHTSA. David Strickland, a lawyer representing a group of self-driving advocates including Google, Ford and Uber [UBER.UL] opposed California's proposal, saying it effectively makes the assessment mandatory.

Tom Maguire, an official at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said in some cases the proposed rules "rely too heavily on manufacturers' self certification of their safety technology." The agency believes cities should have the authority to deny deployment and determine when and how testing occurs.

General Motors Co (GM.N) official Paul Hemmersbaugh said California should drop plans to include separate privacy rules for driverless cars. The company said California's proposed liability rules could make automakers liable regardless of fault for any crash. He said that would be "unduly punitive" and could have a "chilling effect on testing and deployment of self-driving cars."

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio

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