Autonomous Vehicle Operator

So You Want To Be An Autonomous Vehicle Operator?

Have you heard about the “autonomous vehicle test driver”? Well, if you haven’t, then April 25, 2017, is a big day for you. That is the day the State of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) will hold a public hearing in Sacramento, California to solicit criticism and suggestions for proposed regulations governing autonomous vehicles and their test drivers.

The DMV is now proposing to allow natural persons licensed to drive to become autonomous vehicle testers. These “autonomous vehicle test drivers” must be employees, contractors or designees of the autonomous vehicle manufacturer and must sit in the driver’s seat of the autonomous vehicle.

The proposed regulations define a “designee” as a natural person authorized by the manufacturer to drive or operate the manufacturer’s test vehicles on public roads. The test driver must also be licensed to drive the class of vehicle being operated.

This proposed regulation, of course, raises the obvious question: if a vehicle is truly autonomous, then why does it require a licensed human to sit in the driver seat?

Well, the DMV is also proposing to allow truly driverless cars (no brakes or steering wheels) to be tested on public roads so long as the vehicle can be remotely controlled by a natural person. The DMV’s proposed regulations for truly driverless cars contains a plethora of requirements that must be met by the manufacturer before truly driverless cars may be tested on public roads. Of course, driverless cars are revolutionary and raise a host of concerns and issues.

Moreover, the “autonomous vehicle test driver” also raises several issues that will require further thought and analysis:

  1. If a reasonable, natural person is faced with emergency circumstances such as involvement in a car accident, can that natural person respond in sufficient time to take control of an autonomous vehicle to avoid injuries and damages? In other words, is the public truly safe even if an autonomous vehicle has a natural person seated in the driver’s seat? Will normal human reaction times allow the test driver to take control of the vehicle?
  2. Will the nature of the autonomous vehicle cause the reasonable test driver to be lulled into complacency so that he or she doesn’t perceive and react to a dangerous situation? Again, will the public be safe even if a manufacturer places a natural person in the driver’s seat of an autonomous vehicle?
  3. What driver standards and guidelines will apply to the “autonomous vehicle test driver”? The proposed regulation simply calls for the driver to be licensed. Should there be higher standards of physical and mental abilities given the unknown risks associated with an autonomous vehicle?

The above questions and issues are just some of the matters that will need to be addressed on April 25, 2017.

You will want to make sure that you are fully aware of the risks before becoming an “autonomous vehicle test driver”. At Curtis Legal Group, we are working to stay on top of this new technology and the legal issues arising from this technology. The risks of harm to you as either a passenger, pedestrian or fellow motorist needs to be understood and fully disclosed.

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