California Says No Sleeping In Autonomous Cars…For Now


News of the Google self-driving car was all over the internet last week, and it now appears that the age of autonomous vehicles is upon us, just like Popular Mechanics promised back in the 1940’s. Soon, we will be able to whisk our way to Grandma’s house in cars that drive themselves while the family relaxes over a spirited game of Parcheesi.

But new technology always raises the hackles of governments, who are intent on finding ways to keep us from hurting ourselves. California has tackled the menace of autonomous cars head-on with a round of new regulations designed to keep things from getting out of hand.

For one, manufacturers must obtain a permit for each individual car and carry a minimum $ 5 million in liability insurance on each one. Operators must be official test drivers on a manufacturer’s payroll, and pass a rigorous training program to get a one year permit (A training program to NOT drive a car…?). Presumably, operators will have to participate in more training to get their permit renewed.

Any accident or instance that requires overriding the vehicle’s autonomous controls must be reported to the California DMV immediately. And finally, operators must remain attentive behind the wheel at all times. No sleeping allowed. Which begs the question: What if there is no steering wheel? The Google Car announced last week has no steering wheel, no pedals and none of the other controls we normally associate with a motor vehicle. Brave New World, indeed!

Back at the dawn of the automotive era, motor vehicles were considered highly dangerous. Many cities required owners to have someone walk in front of the car, waving a warning flag or sounding a klaxon to warn the citizens that a motorized conveyance was approaching.

Today we find such regulations foolish in an endearing sort of way. Chances are, our grandkids will find the new regulations pertaining to autonomous vehicles highly amusing as well.

“Can you believe people used to have actually drive themselves? How quaint!”

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.