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California DMV dictate on driverless cars: too much a reining back?

We noted in a recent blog post that it is difficult to predict when California safety officials will remove all regulatory obstacles concerning the development of driverless cars being worked on by Google and other auto companies.

We further noted in that post that, “Google executives are growing impatient.”

Well, their impatience since the date of our December 10 entry has undoubtedly been further tested to an almost incomprehensible degree by a recent dictate of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

We stated in the aforementioned post that Google executives have been “routinely prodding safety regulators to move faster in approving widespread use of the vehicles.”

What they got, instead, was a go-slow order of the highest magnitude, with a recent DMV mandate regarding the cars flatly dashing the hopes of Google officials, scientists and researchers.

That dictate: Stop further work altogether on driverless prototypes that do not have a driver behind the wheel at all times when such vehicles are operating on state roadways.

Some readers might readily understand and appreciate regulators’ hesitancy to give Google and other automakers an unimpeded green light on their research and developments.

Others, though, might quickly appreciate the criticisms of some researchers and other commentators — including the comments made by a writer in a recent Forbes article on the technological advances and future of driverless cars in the United States and across the world. A standard criticism of the rein-it-in regulatory response is that human drivers are essentially ineffectual when it comes to moving instantly from a mindset of passivity to one of emergency responder.

Why not let research continue unfettered, with driverless technology being progressively enhanced? That technology, many of its proponents say, will far better protect vehicle occupants in an emergency than human drivers will ever be able to do, once it is fully developed.

There are additional reasons, too, why the new DMV edict is misplaced, say critics. Together they add up to bad regulatory policy.

As stressed by Forbes, “California needs to … reconsider its course on driverless cars.”


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