Google, Consumer Groups Spar Over California Self-Driving Rules

The head of Google's autonomous vehicle operations said this week that California's proposed regulations for self-driving technology would force the tech giant's cars out of its native state.

Mnet 171871 Google Self Driving Ap

The head of Google's autonomous vehicle operations said this week that California's proposed regulations for self-driving technology would force the tech giant's cars out of its native state.

Chris Urmson, who spoke at the first of two hearings on the rules convened by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, told the Sacramento audience that under the proposal, Google's technology "will not be available to California."

The DMV issued draft rules for self-driving cars last month that, if implemented, could allow those vehicles to operate on California roads as early as next year.

The regulations, however, require special certification for both autonomous car manufacturers and operators. They also stipulate that a licensed driver sit in the driver's seat at all times and that the cars must be equipped with steering wheels.

Google is testing its autonomous technology on California roads, but the company wants its cars to be free of steering wheels and pedals altogether.

"We need to be careful to make the assumption that having a person behind the wheel will make the technology more safe," Urmson said at the hearing, according to KCRA-TV.

The California New Car Dealers Association expressed concerns at the hearing that the state would not be able to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology, while Jessie Lorenz -- a blind woman who test-drove one of Google's cars -- called for changes that would benefit the state's disabled residents.

DMV officials countered that their primary focus in crafting the rules was the safety of other drivers that shared the road with autonomous vehicles.

Consumer groups also said that the cars could falter under a number of different scenarios, from rain to construction to police officers directing traffic.

"There's been thousands of times when the drivers had to take control of the cars to prevent a crash," said Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

Although California is moving ahead with self-driving regulations, federal transportation officials plan to develop a nationwide framework for states to adopt by mid-2016.

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