California may require driverless cars to always have drivers

Alphabet, Google's mother company, might be planning to take on Uber with a car service that doesn't have any drivers involved but in the state of California, that business might not fly. Or in this case, roll. Which is pretty ironic considering it is Alphabet's home base. California's DMV has just released a draft version of rules that will govern autonomous and, among other things, it will require a licensed driver, specially trained by the car company, to always be present in the car, ready to take over when necessary.

Not all car makers who are working on self-driving cars envision a future where there is no human on the driver's seat at all. The only such scenarios involve parking or getting out of parking, but almost never on roads. These car makers' idea is more of a hands-free style of driving, freeing the human behind the wheel, if it has one, to do other things, like turn around, talk, or just chill.

Alphabet's self-driving cars, however, are more futuristic. The idea is that they will be able to function even without any human inside. They don't even have any manual controls. At least not until California required them to put some for their test cars. Now the same state might be imposing even more requirements that could adversely affect Alphabet's plans.

Practically, there are many requirements that all stem from one basic requirement, that a licensed human driver be present inside the car, in the front seat even, who can override the autopilot when necessary. This has several implications, like a certification requirement for anyone owning such a vehicle, which is expected. But it also means that not only should there always be a human inside who knows how to operate the car, but also that the car still has some form of manual control.

It is a latter that could put a damper on Alphabet's self-driving car plans. For one, they might be required to put a steering mechanism and brake inside the final, consumer version of the car instead of just the test models. And if it does plan on having an Uber-like business, having a "driver" inside the two-seater car would mean only one seat left for a passenger. No friends allowed.

Of course, all of these are still in the proposal stages and may still change before its final form, for better or for worse, depending on who you ask.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal