For decades, self-driving cars have been the dream of science fiction authors and people who don’t like putting their lives in the hands of morons. But there are some pretty substantial legal issues involved that keep them off the road. California, though, seems to have cleared them.
According to the new rules, self-driving cars can be tested on California roads, and if the tests pan out, self-driving cars could be available to the public as soon as December. That said, it’s not as simple as just slapping a robot on the road according to Ars Technica.
During the tests, an operator must remain in the driver’s seat at all times and must obtain an “Autonomous Vehicle Testing (AVT) Program Test Vehicle Operator Permit” from the DMV. To obtain such a permit, the operator must go through a training program put together by the manufacturer and approved by the DMV, which includes “defensive driver training, including practical experience in recovering from hazardous driving scenarios” as well as “instruction that matches the level of the autonomous test vehicle driver’s experience operating the specific type of automated driving system technology with the level of technical maturity of the automated system.”
In other words, your average driver can’t just get behind the wheel. Somebody who is actually trained and knows what he or she is actually doing has to be able to take over at a moment’s notice.
Self-driving car technology has the potential to be revolutionary. To start with, we, as a species, suck horribly at driving. Basically we rely on everyone else to pick up our slack on the road if we make a mistake. This method is so effective that after eighty years of safety advances and awareness campaigns, we’ve finally rendered the car equally as dangerous as the firearm. Self-driving systems, even just crash-prevention systems, would save a lot of lives.
Similarly, they’re a lot more efficient; using vehicle to vehicle systems, they can communicate with each other and drive much closer than a human being can without slamming into the car in front of them. It would render traffic jams much less common, or at least less annoying.
That said, there are still quite a few cost barriers, and these cars still need extensive testing; pedestrians and cyclists are just as dumb and hard to compensate for. But California tends to be on the cutting edge of these things, so we might see self-driving cars on the market sooner than you think.