Credit Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters
SAN FRANCISCO â California is not quite ready to let self-driving cars hit the road on their own.
The stateâs Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday issued a draft of potential regulations for putting regular people behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles. The draft is a big step toward legal recognition of self-driving technology, but it comes with significant requirements.
The D.M.V. proposal would mandate that autonomous vehicles be operated by a licensed driver who could take over if necessary. That driver would also be on the hook for traffic violations.
The manufacturers of self-driving cars would have to subject their vehicles to a third-party safety test. And they would apply for three-year permits that would allow them to lease but not sell self-driving cars to the public.
Manufacturers would also have to regularly report accidents, come up with security measures to prevent hackers from taking over cars, and tell passengers what kind of data, beyond whatever information is needed to safely run the car, the companies are collecting about them.
Self-driving cars are already a common sight around California, particularly in Mountain View, where Google is based and often tests the vehicles. But outside of press events and other private showings, regular people have yet to operate them.
Googleâs self-driving-car project is focused on producing a fully autonomous car, and its prototype does not have pedals or a steering wheel, though Google does add a steering wheel and other controls when it tests the vehicles on public roads.
While the draft released Wednesday does not directly address vehicles like the Google prototype, the D.M.V. said it believed that âmanufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public.â
âThe department will address the unique safety, performance and equipment requirements associated with fully autonomous vehicles without the presence of a driver in subsequent regulatory packages,â the draft read.
Googleâs autonomous vehicle effort is part of the X division of Alphabet, a holding company formed in August to separate Googleâs search and advertising businesses from more speculative projects.
But self-driving cars are likely to be spun off into their own division soon. In September, Alphabet hired John Krafcik, an auto industry veteran, to be chief executive of the division, at which point the company said the self-driving-car unit, while not yet a stand-alone company, was âa good candidate to become one at some point in the future.â
Astro Teller, head of the X division, has on several occasions said that the companyâs tests show humans to be a poor fallback, because once they learn to trust self-driving technology they ignore the road and therefore are not well equipped to take over in the event of an emergency.
Not to mention that the big pitch behind autonomous driving technology is to help people who cannot or do not want to drive because they are disabled, drunk or just too busy doing other things.
âSafety is our highest priority and primary motivator as we do this,â said Courtney Hohne, a Google spokeswoman, in an emailed statement. âWeâre gravely disappointed that California is already writing a ceiling on the potential for fully self-driving cars to help all of us who live here.â
A number of other Bay Area companies are investing in self-driving-car technology, including the electric-car company Tesla Motors and the ride-hailing service Uber Technologies. Google is one of 11 companies â along with Tesla, Honda Motor, BMW and Ford Motor â with a permit to test the vehicles on California roads.
The D.M.V.âs draft is basically a starting point for two workshops â one in Sacramento, another in Los Angeles â where regulators and manufacturers will talk about rules for allowing ordinary people to operate self-driving cars.
Three years ago, California enacted a law that required the D.M.V. to adopt new vehicle, performance and safety regulations for putting autonomous cars on public roads. The first milestone was last September, when the D.M.V. introduced a series of guidelines that allowed companies like Google and others to start testing self-driving cars on California roads.