Yesterday, California’s DMV released a proposal draft on regulations for self-driving cars that, should it become law, would require licensed drivers to be in autonomous vehicles when they’re on the road. The reason revolves around safety, with the idea being that a licensed driver could take control if the car messed up in some way. Now, a day later, Google’s Chris Urmson has responded to the proposal saying, “We have to imagine a better future … not a future of partial self-driving capabilities.”
Urmson, the head of Google’s self driving cars unit, took to Medium to make his statement. He opened with talk about how self-driving cars could help humanity — those with illnesses who are unable to drive would have a way to get around instead of having to ask for rides. The elderly will also benefit from self-driving cars, retaining the same degree of mobility without the risk of being behind the wheel.
Licensed drivers, of course, also serve to benefit from the technology, particularly those with long commutes. If the car can be relied on to do all the driving itself, one could use their commuting time to nap, relax, catch up on their reading, work on a project, or just enjoy the scenery.
Self-driving car safety has been called into question many times, and Google has on more than one occasion pointed to one not-so-surprising fact: human error is the cause of many wrecks, and the incidents its own autonomous cars have been involved in were due to the errors of other drivers on the road.
Urmson brought up that factoid in his new statement, saying, “In the US, 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error.” He pointed toward the California state legislators’ 2012 bill that moved the DMV to set regulations for autonomous cars both with and without drivers; it was a ‘visionary’ move, one that make’s the new proposal all the more frustrating.
In a perplexing move this week, however, California seemed to shrink back from its leadership: the CA DMV proposed a draft rule that would require a self-driving car to have a licensed driver at all times. This maintains the same old status quo and falls short on allowing this technology to reach its full potential, while excluding those who need to get around but cannot drive. While we’re disappointed by this, we will continue to work with the DMV as they seek feedback in the coming months, in the hope that we can recapture the original spirit of the bill.