Autonomous vehicle test programs move big step closer

This Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, photo provided by Waymo shows a Chrysler Pacifica minivan that are equipped with Waymo's self-driving car technology, being tested at Waymo's facility in Atwater, Calif. (Julia Wang/Waymo via AP)
A Chrysler Pacifica minivan equipped with Waymo’s self-driving car technology. Passengers would be allowed to ride in autonomous vehicles in California — sometimes without drivers — under a pilot program proposed Friday by state regulators.
Passengers would be allowed to ride in autonomous vehicles in California — sometimes without drivers — under a pilot program proposed Friday by state regulators.

Two pilot programs would be established under plans circulated Friday by the state Public Utilities Commission. The pilot programs were sketched out in a proposal crafted by PUC Commissioner Liane Randolph. The full five-member commission could give the plan a final approval as soon as May 10.

“These proposals allow the introduction of autonomous vehicles into passenger service to the public on a pilot basis, while providing for the safety and consumer protection of the passengers,” an official filing posted by the PUC stated.

One pilot program would allow authorized transportation carriers or companies to provide passenger service using self-driving vehicles with a driver in the vehicle. The second pilot program enables authorized carriers or companies to provide driver-less passenger service, as long as the service complies with all applicable rules that government remote operations of a vehicle as established by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

During the pilot testing, the service would have to be provided free of charge.

“Reports must be regularly submitted to the PUC and the DMV on operations, collisions, and disengagements,” the PUC stated in a prepared release. A disengagement refers to an incident when an on board human safety driver must seize control of the vehicle from the autonomous system.

Multiple companies and ventures have devised or are testing self-driving vehicles, including units or spin-offs of Google, Tesla, Uber and Lyft.

“The entity providing passenger service must remain in compliance with the PUC’s and the DMV’s permits at all times,” the PUC stated on Friday.

Starting April 2, the DMV began taking applications for companies, ventures, or others that were interested in participating in the self-driving vehicle pilot tests.

“Under the testing regulations, manufacturers are required to provide DMV with a Report of Traffic Collision Involving an Autonomous Vehicle within 10 business days of the incident,” according to instructions posted on the DMV site. The DMV added, “A manufacturer shall retain data related to the disengagement of the autonomous mode caused by the failure of the technology or when the safe operation of the vehicle requires the test driver to take immediate manual control of the vehicle.” Those incidents are being compiled into an annual report.

At some point, passengers might have to cough up money to get a ride in a self-driving vehicle.

If the proposal is approved by the PUC’s commissioners, the PUC will begin work on a broader framework to allow companies to provide compensated passenger service using deployed autonomous vehicles,” the PUC regulatory filing stated.

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