While some see a day when cars will drive themselves and reduce traffic crashes caused by human error, California isn’t quite ready to concede its roads to self-driving vehicles.
Since Google introduced a Toyota Prius two years ago capable of driving a blind man to Taco Bell, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is drafting rules to govern the testing of autonomous cars, Autoblog reports
For one, the person in the driver’s seat would not be allowed to take a nap or read a book. The operator would have to remain in the driver’s seat and able to take control while the vehicle is on the road. The state would also require those testing autonomous vehicles to keep track of the times and reasons they have to override automatic functions.
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Under the California rules, autonomous cars and drivers would have to be registered with the state, and testers would have to go through technology certification and a defensive driver course. In addition, a manufacturer would have to buy a $5 million insurance policy to cover injury, death or property damage.
Manufacturers would be allowed to register 10 vehicles and 20 drivers for one-year, renewable permits for $150.
Boston Globe columnist Tom Keane believes autonomous cars will start a revolution akin to the invention of the automobile itself – one that will lead to safer and quicker trips. Instead of relying on the senses of a human, these vehicles combine cameras and sensors with detailed maps, a driving database and electronic brains to navigate roads and eliminate the errors that typically cause wrecks, according to his column.
Considering that New York reported more than 1,150 traffic fatalities every year from 2008 to 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the need for improved safety is clear.
Keane points out that driverless cars will start with manual to autonomous switches – about like cruise control. But as people and government regulators accept them, human-controlled driving will become rare.
The columnist also contends that eventually people won’t have to learn to drive but will simply become passengers in vehicles that take them to their destinations. As a result, fatal accidents, injuries and traffic jams would be reduced, along with the need for safety features such as seat belts and airbags. Car insurance also could go the way of the horse-drawn wagon.
Of course, this transportation utopia would take years to come about. Until then, look for states across the nation to enact rules for those who develop and test driverless cars on the public roads.