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Google blasts California's restrictive rules for autonomous cars

by Justin King

The company argues that the new legal framework \"maintains the same old status quo\" and will inhibit the technology from reaching its full potential.

Google has quickly issued its first criticism of California's proposed regulations for autonomous vehicles.

The new laws, announced yesterday, call for all autonomous vehicles to have a steering wheel and pedals. A human driver would be required to sit behind the wheel, and not just any driver. State officials want a special training program and an "autonomous vehicle operator certificate" before individuals are deemed qualified to drive a self-driving car.

The proposed rules pose a particular difficult roadblock for Google's autonomous ambitions, as the company moves toward commercialization. The search giant plans to launch a driverless rival to ride services such as Uber and Lyft, however the regulations would effectively bar such an endeavor.

Google project director Chris Urmson claims the company has heard stories from a diverse group of individuals suffering from medical ailments that prevent them from driving a car. Examples include vision problems, autism, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, along with the elderly.

"[The proposed rule] maintains the same old status quo and falls short on allowing this technology to reach its full potential, while excluding those who need to get around but cannot drive," he wrote in a .

Google plans to continue working with the California DMV in the coming months as the agency reviews feedback on the proposal. The company wants to return to the spirit of the original bill, passed in 2012, that had envisioned a legal framework for autonomous vehicles with or without human drivers.

"California is a state with both world-class car culture and world-class innovation, and we can do better," Urmson added. "Instead of putting a ceiling on the potential of self-driving cars, let's have the courage to imagine what California would be like if we could live without the shackles of stressful commutes, wasted hours, and restricted mobility for those who want the independence that the automobile has always represented."

DMV officials have defended the restrictive proposal, arguing that the technology is not yet safe enough for widespread deployment. The agency claims manufacturers need to "obtain more experience" testing driverless vehicles on public roads before making the technology available to the general public.

A debate still surrounds liability for accidents when a vehicle is operating in autonomous mode. California's proposal places responsibility solely on the human driver, regardless of manual or autonomous operation. Some automakers appear to be ready to carry the legal burden of such technology. Volvo is among the first to accept liability for any accident caused by one of its cars operating autonomously.

Many automakers are aiming to introduce semi-autonomous features on production vehicles by the end of the decade, initially focusing on the relatively easy task of highway self-driving before introducing systems capable of operating in more complex urban environments. Conservative forecasts point to 2030 for fully autonomous cars arriving on the market.

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