California Puzzles Over Safety Of Driverless Cars
by Justin Pritchard, The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – California’s Department of Motor Vehicles will miss a year-end deadline to adopt new rules for cars of the future because regulators first have to figure out how they’ll know whether “driverless” vehicles are safe.
It’s a rare case of the law getting ahead of an emerging technology and reflects regulators’ struggle to balance consumer protection with innovation.
Safety is a chief selling point, since self-driving cars — thanks to an array of sensors — promise to have much greater road awareness and quicker reaction time than people. Plus, they won’t text, drink or doze off.
Though the cars are at least a few years away from showrooms, seven companies are testing prototypes on California’s roads, and regulators have questions: Do they obey all traffic laws? What if their computers freeze? Can they smoothly hand control back to human drivers?
DMV officials say they won’t let the public get self-driving cars until someone can certify that they don’t pose an undue risk. The problem is that the technology remains so new there are no accepted standards to verify its safety. Absent standards, certifying safety would be like grading a test without an answer key.