California’s latest autonomous vehicle regulations

Credit: Mike Keefe


The ABA’s Science & Technology Law section has an AI and Robotics committee that holds a monthly teleconference “meetup” where a guest speaker presents on an AI/Robotics-related legal issue.  From here forward, I’ll be making a brief post on each monthly meetup.

For the April meetup, Michele Kyrouz gave a presentation on California’s updated autonomous vehicle (AV) regulations.  I wrote a post last fall discussing the new rules governing AV advertising and marketing, and intended to do a longer post discussing the regulation changes as a whole.  This month’s meetup gave me the kick in the pants I needed to actually do that.

What follows is mostly taken from Ms. Kyrouz’s presentation.

Who/what do the new regulations govern?

The regulations apply to manufacturers seeking to test or deploy AVs in California.  They also extend to anyone who modifies vehicles to install AV technology.

The regulations only cover vehicles with technology that satisfies SAE automation Levels 3, 4, or 5.  No such vehicles are currently in mass production, although a number of vehicles with robust level 2 automation are on the road–most notably Tesla vehicles equipped with “Autopilot.”  The regulations basically apply only to standard passenger cars and trucks; they do not allow permits for AVs weighing more than 10,000 lbs (i.e., commercial trucks), which will be covered by a separate set of regulations, or autonomous motorcycles.

(Kyrouz noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration floated the idea of issuing regulations governing Level 2 cars.  But because such vehicles are already fairly widespread, there was concern that the regulations could effectively outlaw cars already on the road.  This led to strong pushback from industry players and the idea of level 2 regulations stalled.)

How will the regulations be enforced?

Similar to NHTSA, CA will not independently test AVs nor will it require third-party testing.  Instead, the regulations require manufacturers to self-certify that their vehicles satisfy all relevant regulations.

What does a manufacturer have to do to get a testing permit for an AV?

The regulations create two levels of permits: one for all AVs, and one for AVs that are designed to operate with no human driver in the vehicle.

For a manufacturer to get a permit for any type of AV:

  • “Before testing can commence on public roads, manufacturer must test the AV “under controlled conditions that simulate, as closely as practicable, each Operational Design Domain* in which the manufacturer intends the vehicles to operate on public roads.”  Testing on public roads can commence only when the manufacturer “reasonably determine[s] that it is safe to operate the vehicle in each Operational Design Domain.”
    • * “Operational Design Domain” refers to the various circumstances in which the AV is designed to operate, “including but not limited to roadway type, speed range, [and] environmental conditions (weather, daytime/nighttime, etc.).
  • The manufacturer itself must conduct the testing
  • The tested vehicles must be operated by employees, contractors, or other designees of the manufacturer (who must, in turn, meet their own qualification requirements to operate AVs on public roads)
  • The manufacturer must supply proof of insurance or otherwise demonstrate that they can pay out a $5,000,000 judgment.

To get a permit to test a vehicle designed to operate without any driver in the vehicle, the manufacturer must meet a slew of additional requirements:

  • The manufacturer must ensure that the vehicle has a “remote operator” who can engage and monitor the autonomous technology and who has a communication link with vehicle and occupants.
    • Similar to test drivers, remote operators must meet certain requirements and obtain certification.
  • The manufacturer must certify it will continually monitor status of vehicle and comm link
  • Vehicle must meet NHTSA requirements or get NHTSA exemption
  • Manufacturer must update the DMV if the operational design domain changes
  • Manufacturer must notify and “coordinate” with “local authorities” in jurisdiction where it will be testing
    • Unfortunately, the regs don’t specify what “local authorities” or “coordination” means in this context
  • Also must present a “law enforcement interaction plan” that tell law enforcement agencies how to interact with the vehicle in emergency and traffic enforcement situations.
  • To extent there is an accident and the AV is at fault, manufacturer must certify that it will assume any and all liability associated with the operation of the vehicle on public roads.
  • If collision, deactivation, or disengagement occurs during testing, the manufacturer must notify the DMV and provide certain information.

Some critics have objected to the decision to make these more stringent requirements apply to all vehicles capable of driverless operation, rather than limiting them to vehicles that actually operate without a human driver.

What additional requirements apply to the deployment of AVs?

To actually deploy an AV–that is, sell it or make it available for hire to the public–the manufacturer must get another permit and meet more stringent requirements:

  • Must meet additional financial responsibility requirements
  • Must specify the relevant ODDs and certify that vehicles are incapable of operating in autonomous mode in areas outside those ODDs
  • Must submit to the DMA a “consumer or end user education plan” showing how they will explain the vehicle’s ODDs, any restrictions on the vehicle’s operations, etc
  • Must state how vehicles will come to complete and safe stop if the autonomous technology fails (and, in the case of Level 3, if the human driver does not intervene as required)
  • The vehicles must include data recorders–kind of like the black boxes on airplanes
  • Must meet information privacy rules regarding data collected by the AV
    • Boundaries of rule are unclear, but notably, the rules state that a manufacturer cannot deny use of an AV simply because a user rejects its data collection terms
    • Unsurprisingly, insurance companies expressed a strong interest in gaining access to much data as possible from these vehicles

You can download the full audio of full meetup here and the most recent release of the AV regulations here.

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