March 30, 2017 Practice Points

Uber Seeks to Comply with California Self-Driving Regulations

By Leonard Wills

On March 2, 2017, Uber Technologies, Inc., agreed to comply with California’s autonomous vehicle regulations. Although Uber has not formally submitted the application, the company has engaged in discussions with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure it complies with the regulations. Last December, California ordered Uber to cease its autonomous vehicle pilot program because the company failed to obtain the proper permit. Uber sought to launch its pilot program without a permit, arguing that its vehicles did not meet California’s legal definition of an autonomous vehicle. California disagreed, ordering Uber to cease its efforts to launch a pilot program.

In California, all companies are required to obtain a permit before testing their autonomous vehicles. As of March 2, 2017, California has issued autonomous vehicle testing permits to 24 companies. In addition to obtaining a permit, manufacturers must submit disengagement reports by January 1 each year, summarizing the disengagements of technology during testing on public roadways. The reports serve as an “interesting data point” that demonstrate the progress and development of manufacturers’ autonomous vehicle testing. By way of example, Google’s autonomous vehicle, Waymo, required fewer disengagements—times when the vehicle must be turned off—in 2016 than in 2015.

Some critics argue the reports lack scientific measurements of complexity and operating characteristics; blaming this lack of complexity on the regulations. For example, the regulations do not specify how manufacturers should present their findings in the report. Among other issues, the reports do not elaborate on whether the vehicles follow detailed maps, do not show the impact weather has on the vehicles, and do not account for the “proclivities of human operators.”

California’s autonomous vehicle regulations set forth guidelines to promote technological innovation and oversight on manufacturers’ autonomous vehicle testing. Some critics, however, argue that California should amend the existing regulations because they provide an incomplete account of a vehicle’s progress. If California revises the existing regulations, the revisions should not stifle innovation. Manufacturers and the government must cooperate to further technological innovations and protect public safety.

Leonard Wills works with the U.S. government in Washington, D.C.

The views in this article neither represent the official views of the United States government nor does the United States government endorse the views in this article.