The California Department of Motor Vehicles this week proposed new rules for the 31 companies presently engaged in autonomous car testing within the state. The public has until April 25 to comment on the proposed changes. If approved, the new rules would allow an autonomous car to operate without a human driver on board. Until now, a real person had to ride along and be available to take over the controls in an emergency. The car would also be allowed to pick up passengers, provided no compensation is involved. Here’s the draft rule:
“Passenger” means an occupant of a vehicle who has no role in the operation of that vehicle when the autonomous technology is engaged. A passenger may summon a vehicle or input a destination, but does not engage the technology, monitor the vehicle, or drive or operate the vehicle. A member of the public may ride as a passenger in an autonomous test vehicle if there are no fees charged to the passenger or compensation received by the manufacturer.
While manufacturers seem to be dead set against electric cars, they are rushing headlong toward developing self driving cars. If that seems contradictory — a self driving car will almost certainly be electric — perhaps the answer is that car companies think they will rake in piles of cash from people willing to pay to get from Point A to Point B and back again. On the other hand, no one except Tesla believes there are profits to be made from selling electric cars directly to private buyers.
The public is not quite so fired up about autonomous cars, however. A new survey released by AAA this week finds that nearly three quarters of those surveyed report feeling afraid of sharing the road with autonomous cars. Only 10% said they would feel safer sharing the road with self driving cars.
“A great race towards autonomy is underway and companies are vying to introduce the first driverless cars to our roadways,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. “However, while U.S. drivers are eager to buy vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, they continue to fear a fully self-driving vehicle.”
The survey found that 59% of drivers like the idea of driver assist technology such as self parking, lane following, and auto pilot. “US drivers may experience the driver-assistance technologies in their cars today and feel they don’t work consistently enough to replace a human driver – and they’re correct,” said Brannon. “While these technologies will continue to improve over time, it’s important that consumers understand that today’s systems require your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.”
This cognitive dissonance — “Yes, I like technology that makes driving safer; no, I don’t like the idea of cars that drive themselves” — suggests a transition period will be needed before drivers become accustomed to self driving cars, but the process may be slower than many in the industry think. Elon Musk says someday autonomous cars will be as common as self service elevators (and about as much fun, Elon!) but the AAA findings suggest that day is still far in the future.
Source: Autoblog Graphic credit: AAA