Is the Future Really Here? California Clears the Way for Greater Autonomous Vehicle Testing This Year

It’s fun to compare past predictions of a futuristic society with our actual reality of today. Some predictions included flying cars, communities on the moon or Mars, and true-to-life robots existing alongside humans. While the last scenario is becoming more viable, one thing that has been on the table for the past several years now is the allowance of self-driving vehicles.

In an attempt to keep up with the increasingly innovative driving technologies and to avoid losing investments to other states, the California DMV is moving to finalize its rules this year for autonomous vehicles on the road.

Currently, California allows 43 companies to test self-driving vehicles, with the stipulation that a driver can take control of the car at any time. Once the new DMV rules are in place, anticipated for  June 2018, experts predict that numerous other companies will begin applying for fully driverless permits to test their own iterations of driverless technology.


Nevada was the first state in 2011 to allow operation of autonomous vehicles, and 20 other states plus D.C. followed toward passing similar regulations. Since 2012, 12 more states jumped onboard with research and development, legislation, or even signing executive orders to clear the way for the development and use of autonomous vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) currently outlines 6 levels of driver assistance technology on the road to full automation:

  1. No Automation – driver performs all tasks
  2. Driver Assistance – Vehicle is controlled by the driver, but some features have driver-assist included in the vehicle design.
  3. Partial Automation – Vehicle includes combined automated functions, such as acceleration and steering, but the driver is still required to be engaged with driving and monitoring the environment.
  4. Conditional Automation – Although necessary for a driver to be present, attention to the environment is not required. The driver should be ready to take action if necessary.
  5. High Automation – The vehicle is capable of performing all driving tasks under certain conditions, but the driver has the option to take control of the vehicle.
  6. Full Automation – The vehicle is capable of performing all driving tasks under all conditions, but the driver still has the option to take control of the vehicle.

Purported Benefits of Automated Vehicles (AVs)

Those pushing the technology discuss the current data we have on-hand about motor vehicle-related crashes, which claimed 37,461 lives in 2016. Despite efforts

 to educate the public about safe driving choices and precautions, the NHTSA states that 94% of seri

ous accidents are due to driver error or poor choices made behind the wheel. Autonomous 


vehicles serve as a hope to help mitigate some of these errors and save lives.

Autonomous vehicle technologies are also touted as providers of economic and societal benefits when examining the financial costs of accidents and workplace productivity. In 2010, the NHTSA released a study indicating the economic impact of motor vehicle crashes cost $242 billion, and $57.6 billion in the loss of workplace productivity.

Another benefit that is especially enticing for L.A. and other drivers stuck in a daily commute. It’s predicted that as much as 50 minutes a day could be freed up for drivers using automated vehicles. While the traffic situation doesn’t necessarily go away, users can make better use of their commute times by relaxing through the ride, catching up on work, watching movies or reading a book. Additionally, assuming the cars are more efficient drivers than their human counterparts, it’s possible the traffic may flow more smoothly with the automated features in control.

The Barriers and Risks

“Self-driving vehicle” still inspires hesitation amongst the general public, particularly with the consideration that their increased presence is right around the corner. Though the option to take control at any time would still exist with fully automated vehicles, many still cringe at the thought of relinquishing any control.

The initial barrier in the movement toward automated vehicles is cost. Tesla, for example, attempts to keep costs down with the use of cameras, sensors, and machine learning. Lidar systems, featuring laser radar, has a heftier price tag but is significantly more accurate than other current technologies. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc. uses Lidar and is currently operating driverless vehicles in Arizona on public roads.

One of the obvious concerns is with the autonomy of a driverless car, is there enough technology to prevent car crashes? Just this week, one of Tesla’s cars was involved in a crash, and the 2nd reported accident within the past two weeks. Though both incidents had drivers in their vehicles, both were also on the auto-pilot mode. However, the driver of the first incident was apparently drunk and passed out behind the wheel.

Yet another threat to these higher advancements in technology is that they may present a new target for hackers to crack. Chinese security researchers have already proven they were able to control a Tesla Model X through web and cellular connections. Efforts to coordinate stronger security measures with layered hardware and software systems have been underway since 2015, and tech companies are attempting to work with Congress and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish federal guidelines concerning cybersecurity. 


Though California is making headway for allowing further development and use of automated vehicles, there is still quite a ways to go until these cars become mainstream and accessible to the general public.

Howard Blau Law will keep you posted on the latest updates in this field.

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Check out these references for further reading:

“Watch this viral video of Sophia – the talking AI robot that is so lifelike that humans are freaking out ”. Business Insider. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“California clears the way for testing of fully driverless cars. Local, federal interests have concerns.” Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“Autonomous Vehicles | Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation.” National Conference of State Legislation. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“Automated Vehicles for Safety.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes.” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“Ten Ways Autonomous Driving Could Redefine the Automotive World.” McKinsey & Company. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“The Three Biggest Risks Facing Self-Driving Cars.” Business Insider. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“Waymo is First to Put Fully Self-Driving Vehicles on US Roads Without a Safety Driver.” The Verge. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“Risk of Robocar: Are Connected Cars Safer or a Target for Hackers?” The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2017.

“Tesla on ‘Auto-Pilot’ Crashes Into Culver City Firetruck.” Agoura Hills Patch. Retrieved 24 January 2018.